Beef semen sales increase year-on-year according to market survey

Shan Goodwin
By Shan Goodwin
April 9 2022 - 11:00pm
PIONEER: Royce Sommerfeld, Brahrock Brahmans at Maryborough, with this season's IVF calves.

BEEF semen sales are soaring as cashed up breeders and seedstock producers look to rebuild herds as quickly as possible but also reset their operations to be more profitable.

Reproductive procedures like in vitro fertilisation are also being drawn on more than ever in the chase for rapid genetic gain to build in productivity, market flexibility and the ability to supply higher-end customers as the recovery continues.

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Beef semen sales saw a 25 per cent sales increase year-on-year, according to the just-released National Herd Improvement Association of Australia's semen market survey for 2021.

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The survey draws on data from nine companies in relation to beef: ABS, Agrigene, Alta Genetics, LIC, Rocky Repro, Semex, ST Genetics Australia, TLG VIC-GAC and World Wide Sires.

An incredible 447,977 doses of beef semen were sold last year, up from 359,802 in 2020.

Beef breeders chase rapid genetic gain

NHIA chair Graeme Gillan said sales had grown by 60pc since 2019, with a number of factors at play, and the upward curve was expected to continue.

The increase in numbers was being driven by both the beef and dairy sectors, he said.

"On the beef-to-beef side, the wider artificial insemination industry is engaging more with the beef industry which has led to sales growth," he said.

"On the beef-to-dairy side we are seeing more dairy breeders using beef semen over the bottom 25 to 30pc of their herd, while at the same time using sexed semen over their higher genetic merit animal).

"This continues a trend we have seen previously, but I believe is now being driven by the premium paid at market for young beef dairy cross animals because of the beef component, with this market expected to develop further over the next few years."

IVF boom

The past 18 months, as rebuilding of cattle herds ramped up, IVF utilisation has experienced its most significant period of growth in the beef industry since becoming commercially available in Australia in 2000, according to biotechnology companies.

Luiz Porto, from Inventia Genetic Technologies in Herston, Queensland, said demand was skyrocketing as producers sought to build numbers, and genetic improvement, as fast as possible and had the funds from high livestock prices to do so.

IGT is now active up and down the East Coast and has some of that region's biggest seedstock breeders as clients, sourcing semen from around the world.

Brahmans have been the most popular breed in the past two years but IGT also works with Wagyu, Angus, Herefords, Droughtmasters and other breeds.

Dr Porto explained eggs are isolated from the donor with no need for treatment for ovulation. The procedure takes a few hours and the eggs are taken to a laboratory for fertilisation.

They grow in an incubator and the embryo is then implanted in recipient cows by embryo transfer.

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Tricks of the trade

A pioneer of advanced reproductive technology, the Sommerfeld family's Brahrock Brahmans at Maryborough in Queensland started flushing in the late 1980s and moved into IVF around 2000.

Today, 30pc of their calves are born via IVF. Success rates are only 40 to 50pc.

"We aim for 100 calves on the ground from IVF, then pick the top 50pc for replacements and the rest are sold," Royce Sommerfield said.

"It's top end. IVF calves make more than double the price but it's expensive and it won't be right for everyone.

"But there were a lot of fringe dwellers who, in the past two years, have gone into IVF in a big way."

Getting IVF right, however, involves a lot of trial and error and knowing your genetics very, very well, Mr Sommerfield said.

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"You have to line the ducks up - the right females have to be put with the semen you're sourcing and to do that you have to know your cattle well," he said.

"Genetics is a funny thing - you can put two of the best together and get the worst.

"But with IVF you can pick the world's best genetics for the traits you are breeding for."

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Shan Goodwin

Shan Goodwin

National Agriculture Writer - Beef

Shan Goodwin steers ACM’s national coverage of the beef industry. Shan has worked as a journalist for 30 years, the majority of that with agricultural publications. She spent many years as The Land’s North Coast reporter and has visited beef properties and stations throughout the country and overseas. She treats all breeds equally.

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