Beef’s obsession with coat colour holding up genetic gain

Beef’s obsession with coat colour holding up genetic gain


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NSW lamb seedstock producer Tom Bull says the biggest Achilles heel of the beef industry is coat colour.

NSW lamb seedstock producer Tom Bull says the biggest Achilles heel of the beef industry is coat colour.

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Lamb producer tells beef: Get on with single species analysis.

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THE inability to compare traits across mainstream breeds has put a handbrake on genetic gain in beef.

In southern parts of the country, where objective and financial data are driving enterprise decisions, beef is fast being left behind.

That frank assessment by prominent NSW lamb seedstock producer Tom Bull at a big livestock genetics forum last week has been taken on board by beef industry leaders to such a degree there are now calls for single species analysis by the end of 2019.

The lack of a ‘common language’ in beef estimated breeding values (EBVs) was a prominent theme at the Meat and Livestock Australia-organised forum, held in Brisbane.

However, Mr Bull put some real perspective to the issue when he outlined the performance gains lamb had made by going down this track while beef lurked in the shadows focussed on coat colour.

Design of seedstock was paramount for enterprise advancement in every agriculture pursuit, Mr Bull told the 400-odd producers and industry representatives at the forum.

And there was no doubt using multiple breeds and genes accelerates genetic gains.

“Yet with all these incredible technologies in beef, if you want to make a decision between Hereford and Angus, you still haven’t got the data to do it,” he said.

Lamb industry leader Tom Bull speaking at a livestock breeding and genetics forum at the Brisbane Showgrounds last week.

Lamb industry leader Tom Bull speaking at a livestock breeding and genetics forum at the Brisbane Showgrounds last week.

The lamb industry has been comparing sheep in single databases since 2000.

For the Bulls, whose Lambpro at Holbrook joins 4900 ewes annually to produce terminal and maternal seedstock, that has paved the way for big gains.

Ninety per cent of their lambs are hybrid and the average ram sold is five months of age.

Their business goal is in two year times to see a million lambs produced by their rams.

Mr Bull says he “believes in rams, not breeds” and has built the business on performance.

His breed decisions aren’t made on breeds they are made on EBVs.

That means Lambpro is constantly coming out with new genetic products based on markets and trends.

“The thing we are learning quickly is the demographic in agriculture is changing,” he said.

“The lifelong goal of the babyboomers in our area was to run the best Hereford herd in the country, or the best Merino flock.

“Today’s generation wants to make 8 to 10pc return on capital.

“Once producers have that change of philosophy, what they buy and how they react changes.”

In the south, competition for land is heating up and the beef versus lamb/wool battle is particularly red hot.

It was clear that industries that don’t get their act together would get taken over, Mr Bull said.

“Gen Ys don’t care if they grow canola or beef - they want to make money,” he said.

“They are making enterprise decisions and breeding changes based on data, not gut feelings or what mum and dad did.”

Why is lamb different to beef in this space?

Lambplan is controlled by MLA, not breed societies, Mr Bull said.

“The biggest Achilles heel of the beef industry is coat colour,” he said.

Multi-breed analysis meant “all of a sudden breed societies had to open their books because if they didn’t they wouldn’t have a membership.”

One hundred per cent of the top 100 2017 rams for maternal dollar index were composites.

“Composite breeding becomes an exact science, not just using genetic benefits of different breeds,” Mr Bull said.

The biggest gains had been in fertility.

His message to beef producers: “If your breed societies won’t get on board, you’d have to ask what have they got to hide.”

The ability for southern, northern, western and eastern beef breeders to compare traits across breeds would “open your eyes to a whole range of cattle you mightn’t be looking at.”

At the moment, beef producers were more likely not to change as there wasn’t concrete evidence on which to base a decision, he said.

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