Report Synopsis

Optimising Beef Genetic Selection in Northern Australia

Rebecca Burnham

This report examines selection techniques and modern technologies that are assisting in gathering information to match or supersede prevailing genetic improvement methods. Particular focus is given to how to optimise genetic progress in profit-driving traits, not recognisable by eye. e.g. fertility, feed efficiency, carcass yield and eating quality. 

In the author’s visits to production enterprises around the world, extraordinary genetic gains were observed in beef and across all animal species. Commonalities identified were: (a) clearly defined ‘long-term’ breeding objectives; (b) excellent herd and grazing management (c) ongoing animal phenotypic measurement (d) genotyping; (e) genetic evaluation; (f) and the use of all the selection tools available. Globally, it was noted that leading livestock operations were focussed on breeding animals that not only achieved profitability yet fulfilled environmental and consumer expectation goals.

There are currently many genetic selection tools available in the Australian cattle breeders’ toolbox. These could be summarised as visual selection, pedigree, physical measurements and genetic analysis. BREEDPLAN was released for beef industry use 36 years ago, however only 15% of sale bulls presented in Northern Australia are currently presented with genetic analysis information for selection (Banks, 2019) most often with low accuracy.

In Australia, genotyping tests became available as early as 1963, then in 1993 with micro satellite technology and more recently Single Nucleotide Polymorphism technology (SNP) in 2011-13. The rate of adoption of these tools has increased significantly since 2018. Genotyping offered diagnostic results for parent verification or genetic disorders in early years. Nowadays genomics can evaluate the genetics of an animal by combining information on pedigree, phenotype and genotype to produce a breeding value (BV) providing more genetic information than ever before for improved selection accuracy.

Given the recent surge of interest in genotyping Australian beef cattle, this study aimed to review what this modern genetic technology and others can offer the industry, especially in optimising selection. The author’s investigation uncovered the importance of collecting phenotypic measurements to support genotyping, as without continual physical animal measurement, genomics will be meaningless (Hayes, 2018).

It was observed that in addition to establishing an efficient management template for grazing land and herd management, Australian beef producers can optimise business profit by using ALL the genetic selection tools available, especially when introducing bulls. It was observed in global livestock breeding examples, if it can be measured, it can be managed.

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