Modern selection methods

Noted Australian cattleman Anthony Coates presented a stimulating paper at the Free State University in Bloemfontein, which gives an overview of the technology used by Australia’s cattlemen. Chris Nel was there.
Issue date 14 December 2007

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The Agricultural Business Research Institute (ABRI) at the University of New England is a key element in the structure supporting the Australian beef industry. Its broad mission is to develop and implement world-class agribusiness information systems for livestock industries, providing technology and technology transfer, technical service and training in beef breeding. I ts achievements include developing the Breedplan beef cattle pedigree recording and genetic evaluation system, as well as the HerdMASTER on-farm beef management software for PC, RaceMATE software to interface RFI identification tags with other systems, and a dairy herd recording system called Dairy-Express. Breedplan also formed the basis for similar systems for sheep, goats, horses and alpacas. “Breedplan, recognised as the most advanced beef recording and genetic evaluation system for beef cattle in the world, is continually being further refined,” explained Coats. “It’s used by more than 80 beef breeds in 13 countries, and in environments ranging from temperate to tropical.

A worldwide standard is currently being developed for, among others, the Hereford and Brahman breeds. “RaceMATE enables automatic and foolproof individual identification and tracing of beef from farm to plate. Traceability is currently a key issue in the global beef industry. Economic breeding values for profitable beef production for specific markets are under development. These values – Domestic Production $Index and Export Market $– incorporate all the economically important individual breeding values. Once perfected, this software will be available in South Africa.” Quantifying temperament “Cattle temperament impacts on a beef enterprise’s profitability in many ways. Inappropriate temperament leads to lower performance (growth, feed efficiency and sickness levels) in the feedlot, and increases production costs by increasing handling time and requiring more expensive handling facilities. “While short-term training may change an animal’s behaviour in familiar environments, it does not change its temperament. The latter will surface in unfamiliar situations or environments, and no amount of training or conditioning can change the genes passed on to the progeny. “A simple test to determine temperament, also a measure of meat quality, has been perfected by the CSRRO.

It is based on standardised measurement of the speed at which an animal moves out of a crush. This flight speed is repeatable and is related to the way in which an animal handles stress – weaning stress, handling stress, transport stress or stress from being crowded together, all of which impact on the final eating quality of beef. Cattle susceptible to stress are also more difficult to handle, take more time to load and process, injure themselves and others, injure workers and damage infrastructure. All have cost implications that negatively affect profitability.” Molecular genetic technologies The recent launch of the Beef Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for genetic technologies heralds an exciting future for molecular genetic research in beef cattle, said Coats. “This CRC is a collaborative venture between 19 partner organisations from Australia, New Zealand (NZ), Korea and the US. As Breedplan is an international system deriving a major benefit from research at Beef CRCs, the research is also international in nature.

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NZ Meat and Wool, a collaborator in the Beef CRC, has opened a regional office for its extension and genetic staff at the offices of NZ Performance Beef Breeders, Breedplan’s processing centre for all major breeds in NZ. With an estimated cost of AU2 million (R686 million) over the next seven years, this research is expensive, but the results will give industry a return of many times the investment.” Taking stock TakeStock is a herd’s genetic progress statement, a benchmarking report comparing a specific herd with the average, bottom and top herds of the breed in terms of key factors influencing genetic progress. It will enable breeders to review the genetic changes in their herds over time, focusing on the reasons for the observed changes and identifying ways to improve progress. It’s a core component of Breed Leader, a course for stud breeders who have been performance recording for some time and want to get more from their breeding programmes. Data quality audit The Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU) have developed a herd-data quality rating system to monitor the quality trends in the herd. Herds are scored on a scale of one to 100, and then classified as gold, silver or bronze.

The evaluation will cover three aspects of data quality: comprehensiveness of recording; quality of phenotypes (distribution of birth weights around the normal curve); and effectiveness of recording (the size of contemporary groups). Beef technoloy services Southern Beef Technology Services (SBTS), a new genetics extension programme, was launched in 2005 with a team of seven technical consultants as a joint initiative of Meat and Livestock Australia, the ABRI and the 14 breed societies representing most of the cattle breeds in Southern Australia: Hereford, Poll Hereford, Murray Grey, Shorthorn, Charolais, Limousin, Simmentaler, Red Angus, Wagyu, South Devon, Devon, Red Poll, Blonde d’Aquitaine and Salers. A number of very successful SBTS workshops have already been held. Combined with and based on the equally successful Tropical Beef Technology Services (TBTS) established in 1998, it provides the Australian cattle industry with the opportunity to learn more about estimated breeding values (EBVs) and how to apply them in stud breeding and commercial beef production. It also provides a platform for questions and interactive discussion.

The workshops are open to all, with discounts to participating breeds. As the Australian press regularly reports on EBVs and Breedplan, an open discussion in the industry is very beneficial, as producers start exploring the use of EBVs in the commercial environment. Results of the TBTS already include a 240% increase in Breedplan recording, 81% of performance data being submitted electronically, and Breedplan genetics in current calves varying from 63% to 99,2% depending on the breed. Breeders for Profit: improving profitability The Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has developed a new two-day course called Breeders for Profit, to improve profitability of a commercial cattle breeding operation by effective and efficient cow and heifer selection. The course includes technical sessions and hands-on exercises in the yards and participants developing a female selection plan for their own enterprises. The course’s technical component covers understanding female traits and includes using herd performance records and female EBVs as selection tools. The workshops, catering for all cattlemen, are designed for groups of about 15 participants. The genetics of fat Consumers are becoming increasingly health conscious and keen to reduce their intake of saturated fats, due to evidence that these tend to raise plasma cholesterol levels. A study of the genetics of fat composition, led by John Graham of Primary Industries Research Victoria, has produced some interesting results.

They indicate that there may be scope to select from within existing genetic variation, to produce healthier beef. The study found significant interbreed variation in the fatty acid composition of intramuscular fat and, to a lesser extent, subcutaneous fat. Although differences were small, it seems that there may be potential for selection to produce meat with more desirable fatty acid characteristics. Heritability (the proportion of the variation in a trait due to genes passed on to offspring) for mono-unsaturated fats is reported to be approximately 0,4. Leaner, later-maturing breeds apparently have more desirable fatty acid characteristics. Coats sums up the way forward for beef cattle. “We need to breed well-adapted, economically efficient middle-of-the-road ‘easy care’ cattle. Over-large cattle require additional maintenance and care, pushing up the input costs. “Select your genetics on a balance of performance criteria such as EBVs, visual evaluation and selected genetic markers such as GeneStar rating, with suggested weightings of 70%:20%:10%. “Avoid single trait extremes. A good example is chasing marbling irrespective of all else. This will affect feed conversion, as more feed is needed to produce fat than is needed to produce skeletal muscle. Place more emphasis on economically important values.

Dollar selection indices, or dollar indices, will give a single value that reflects the sum of several separate economically significant individual values. “Cull by eliminating from the bottom, as this is more relevant and easier in practice than selecting the good ones from the top. Attitude is everything. The longer we live the more we realise the impact of attitude on life. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than what other people think or say or do. It’s more important than appearance, physical strength or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.” Contact Anthony Coates on (07) 4165 1235 or e-mail [email protected] |fw