An international genetics conference at Beef 2012 in Rockhampton has heard about the significant role composite cattle breeding has played in improving branding percentages, growth rates and carcase quality for one of Australia’s largest cattle companies.
North Australian Pastoral Company brands more than 65,000 calves a year but has not purchased a bull for more than 14 years.
Instead the privately-owned pastoral company has bred its own elite bulls in what is widely recognised as the largest composite cattle breeding program in the world.
NAPCo runs almost 200,000 cattle across 14 individual properties stretching from breeding operations in the Northern Territory and Queensland Gulf Country to backgrounding and growing properties in Central and Southern Queensland and a feedlot near Dalby on Queensland’s Darling Downs.
Cattle typically follow a north west to south east progression from breeding to finishing, with about 60 percent of the company’s production finished on grain at its Wainui feedlot at Dalby. Approximately 60pc of its grainfed turnoff make Japanese or Korean export specifications and about 40pc sell into the domestic supermarket trade.
In the mid-1980s NAPCo developed a self-perpetuating composite to balance tropical adaptability with retained heterosis, resulting in the “Alexandria composite” which comprises 5/16 Shorthorn, 3/8 Brahman, 1/8 Africander, 1/8 Charolais, and 1/16 Hereford.
Then in the mid-1990s, with eating quality considerations rising in prominence, the company developed a second composite which was designed to combine tropical adaptability, fertility and growth with superior meat quality traits. The “Kynuna Composite” is 1/8 Brahman, 3/8 Shorthorn, 1/4 Tuli, and 1/4 Red Angus.
Kynuna Composite sires are now joined with Alexandria Composite females to produce progeny that retain the desired traits of both composites. The terminal progeny are 9/16 Bos Taurus (British-Continental), 1/4 Bos Indicus, and 3/16 Bos Taurus (Sanga).
The company’s elite bull breeding program is also subjected to rigorous analysis and testing, underpinned by regular performance trials at Wainui feedlot. 50K High Density marker tests conducted in partnership with Pfizer have also been run in the top stud and multiplier herds at Alexandria, which allows NAPCo to develop prediction equations on the progeny of all those animals.
Mr Alexander told yesterday’s Bayer and Bioniche International Genetics Conference in Rockhampton that the composite breeding program had delivered many benefits to NAPCo.
The company now had a closed herd with a wide genetically diversified base, and had saved significant outside bull purchase costs for more than 14 years.
The program had also helped the company to achieve 80pc calving rates in the Northern Territory, and produced animals that were well suited to a variety of markets.
“For us it is cost-effective bull production,” Mr Alexander told the conference.
“Moving animals down to our feedlot and back every year is expensive, and the intense record keeping that we do all costs money.
“But when we look at the sums and what we would have to pay to go outside to buy an animal of the same quality, and particularly an animal that we know would actually perform well in our environment, we know this works for us.”
Mr Alexander told Beef Central that while it was difficult to effectively quantify benefits in dollar per head terms, the company was unquestionably better off for having undertaken the composite breeding program.
“It is the best thing that has ever happened for our company, and certainly it is not just about dollars saved on purchasing outside bulls, it is about the dramatic improvement in branding percentage and growth rate, and more recently carcase quality,” he said.
Mr Alexander said paddock segregation and a vigilant approach to fencing management was critically important, particularly during the formative years of a composite program, as was the need to have good contingency plans in the event of seasonal downturns.