CALVING of just over 1400 base cows across six breeds is now underway in an ambitious research project which aims to deliver a resource population for multi-breed genomic evaluation in beef cattle.
There is hope the outcome of the work will mean a bull buyer in 2025 will be able to look at a set of animals from two different breeds and directly compare a range of traits.
For this to happen, a large number of animals will be born and recorded under the same environments over the next five years.
Leading the Southern Mulit-breed Project is livestock genetics research scientist Dr Kath Donoghue, institute director at NSW DPI's Trangie Agricultural Research Centre.
Speaking at the recent Graham Centre Livestock Forum, held online, Dr Donoghue said there were two main angles the project was coming at.
"One is addressing the changing nature of trait recording within the beef industry," she said.
"For example, in the seedstock industry we've seen relatively low levels of fertility trait recording in beef herds in the last 10 to 20 years as a reflection of the greater use of AI (artificial insemination) programs.
"So when we look at fertility traits of days to calving, the trait is associated with natural matings.
"The low levels of recording has led to little genetic variation in days to calving which means we have little capacity to change the trait using genetics.
"We also have low levels of recording of hard-to-measure traits like feed efficiency and methane."
At the same time, there is a growing importance to beef's consumers of health and welfare traits.
"So the beef industry has given feedback it would like to address these situations and create a resource population where these traits can be recorded in large numbers," Dr Donoghue said.
There has also been feedback about a market failure for those who want to compare bulls from different breeds for their genetic merit.
"The biggest limitation currently is we can't compare, for example, a birth weight EBV (estimated breeding value) in an Angus directly with the same EBV in a Hereford bull," Dr Donoghue said.
"All EBVs are only comparable within breeds at the moment but producers want the capacity to compare animals across breeds for genetic improvement purposes."
Generating breed head-to-head comparisons to underpin a Breedplan temperate multi-breed evaluation is one of the key objectives of the project, led by NSW DPI with funding from Meat & Livestock Australia and the University of New England,
Other objectives include developing a multi-breed resource population to collect high quality data on hard-to-measure traits in beef cattle, and genotyping a large number of highly-recorded individuals from different breeds to enhance current reference populations.
How it will happen
Purebred females will be joined to purebred bulls. Heifers will be retained and joined themselves by natural mating. Steer progeny will be backgrounded and put through feedlots to obtain feed efficiency and carcase data.
The breeds involved are Angus, Brahman, Charolais, Hereford, Shorthorn and Wagyu.
Five DPI research stations, representing a diverse range of environments, will be utilised - Menangle, Trangie, Grafton, Tocal near Newcastle and Glen Innes.
Dr Donoghue said the selection of AI sires had aimed to represent full diversity of genetic material across breeds.
Many traits will be recorded across growth, birth and reproduction and carcase and eating quality but also hard-to-measure and novel traits like net feed intake, methane, bovine respiratory disease, temperament, behaviour and body condition score.
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