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THE NEW GAME CHANGER FOR BEEF BREEDERS

Shan Goodwin
11-Jun-2017 8:00pm

SUPERCHARGED evaluations of how an animal will breed, courtesy of frontier DNA technologies, are paving the way for a radical speed-up of the rate of genetic progress in beef herds.

That sort of advancement is “pure productivity” – the capacity to add value faster than costs are rising, according to genetics scientist Dr Rob Banks.

However, the possibilities genomics is opening up to beef producers is “no big secret” and Australia’s competitors are already hot on the trail, he warned.

“So don’t think you have five or 10 years of cruising ahead of the game,” Dr Banks told delegates at the 2017 Australian Wagyu Association conference, held this month in Albury.

Dr Banks outlined the way genomic profiles can now be used alongside pedigree and performance data to give both increased accuracy on key commercial traits and cut down generational intervals.

“Right now we can read the DNA directly of an individual animal at astonishing levels of precision and we can do that on large numbers of animals for reasonable prices,” he said.

“We can combine that reading, that is the genomic information, with pedigree and performance information to get what you’d call genomically enhanced EBVs.

“That enables us to produce accurate EBVs on animals at any point in their lives for whatever trait is necessary.

“It is possible from the moment of conception - you can certainly do it from birth.

“This is profoundly game changing.”

Where progeny testing requires waiting a number of years and selecting bulls on the basis of their progeny’s performance for a trait, genomic selection means breeders can select the moment a calf is born and start producing progeny from that animal at eight months of age.

“If you do the sums, it’s possible to increase the value of a steer by well over $100 per year using genomic selection, compared to the current $30 to $40 per year gains,” Dr Banks said.

“A breed could make progress such that average returns per steer they produce each year would be $100 more than the previous year’s crop.”

If you put this together with cutting edge reproductive technologies, such as in vitro embryo transfer with young cattle (known as JIVET), it could possibly double again the rate of progress, according to Dr Banks.

For Australia’s seedstock producers, market share was ultimately going to be determined by the genetic progress for profit being achieved, he said.

“The longer you are in the game the more your market share depends on whether you are going faster than others in the genetic improvement race.

“The longer the race goes, the more your speed matters.

“Everything you can do to increase the rate of genetic progress will lead to growing your market share.”

Data is the critical component and was something that should be worked on immediately, he said.

“If you decide, for instance, that methane production is something you want to improve in your cattle you need to be recording cattle for methane output,” he said.

“Whatever is important, give priority to getting the data on the right animals.”

Dr Banks’ other message: Remember you have competitors and don’t rest on your laurels.

“Everybody in the world knows about this technology and all your competitors are moving to genomic selection,” he said.

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