Genetics

Beef industry following dairy trend in the use of sexed semen

Beef Central, 06/09/2022

THE beef industry is increasingly following the dairy sector’s lead in the adoption of sexed semen in artificial breeding programs

Dairy was the early adopter in pioneering the use of sex-sorted semen, principally because of the industry’s overwhelming focus on the value of female calves over males, for milk production. Any opportunity to bump the gender ratio in calves towards the female side provided considerable attraction.

Sexed semen sales are however also growing at a rapid rate in the beef industry, as the size of the artificial breeding market grows.

Beef semen sales experienced 25pc year-on-year growth reaching 448,000 doses last year recorded from herd improvement companies. While this currently represents less than 1pc of Australian beef semen sales (vs 22pc in dairy), several factors are driving this growth which is set to continue, accordingly to leading herd improvement companies.

Uptake of sexed beef semen

Sexed semen has a place in the beef market, artificial breeding stakeholders say. The rate of growth will ultimately be determined by its uptake in sectors where there is a significant premium, such as part of the national herd rebuild post-drought (predominantly Angus female sexed semen).

The uptake of sexed product will also be largely driven by factors such as:

  • number and accessibility of semen-sorting laboratories
  • cost of sexed semen
  • availability of AI vets and technicians
  • beef prices; and
  • seasonal conditions

Uptake for AI in the beef industry is largely driven by use of synchronisation protocols that enable fixed-time AI (FTAI), however the traditional approach may not best suit sex-sorted semen.

In a traditional FTAI program, females are inseminated at a ‘fixed’ pre-determined time, irrespective of behavioural oestrus.

To incorporate sex-sorted semen into an FTAI program, it is recommended that protocols and management procedures are amended to ensure that every female that receives a dose of sex-sorted semen has a higher likelihood of conception.

This usually takes a tailored approach to synchronisation and it is recommended that an expert in the field is consulted before embarking on such a program.

Price considerations

Sex-sorted semen will continue to attract a premium price due to its higher cost of production and different processing methodologies. Also, fewer straws are produced from the sorting process than conventional semen processing.

Australian beef producers can currently access sex-sorted semen from about $45 to upwards of $120/straw, with price variations often reflecting supply and demand of particular sires.

Given the price of purchasing elite bulls (often $50,000+) combined with the benefits of being able to select male or female semen (depending on individual breeding objectives), the use of sexed semen can increase the rate of genetic gain in a herd gain and increase profitability.

While the price of sexed semen may seem expensive, when the breeder considers the number of bulls sold recently for $100,000+ (for the collection of conventional semen), the price of sex-sorted semen becomes more economical – especially when other benefits are considered – for example, being able to select male or female semen to achieve individual breeding objectives, increasing genetic gain in the herd and increasing profitability.

According to Genetics Australia’s Nigel Semmens, demand has increased this year for ‘fresh’ sex-sorted semen from beef sires, with producers achieving excellent conception rates. With the Sexing Technologies lab on site at Total Livestock Genetics, semen can be collected, processed through the sorting machine and kept at a controlled temperature before being used in AI programs within 48 hours of collection.

Sorting labs

Sexing Technologies located at Camperdown, Victoria is the only company currently in Australia with a sex-sorting semen laboratory. It is understood that second laboratory is being established in Rockhampton to service the northern beef market.

The sperm is sorted by analysing the differences in DNA content between the X-chromosome and Y-chromosome bearing sperm. In cattle, the X- chromosome (female) contains about 3.8pc more DNA than the Y- chromosome, and the sorting technique is routinely 93pc gender accurate.

The future

All AI companies are engaged in bringing to market a selection of sires with the required traits and genotypes to produce the highest ROI for industry stakeholders.

A key factor to the uptake and development of sexed semen will be the use of data.

Paul Douglas from Sexing Technologies said that the future will be driven by stud breeders and commercial cattle producers using objective measurements to identify the elite or top performing portion of their herds and in turn applying advanced reproductive technologies to infuse these animals with high performing and efficient genetics.

The availability of trained personnel to conduct assisted breeding programs will be critical to sustain the rapid industry growth rates.

Rapid technological advances combined with genomics, increasing specialist knowledge and increasingly successful commercial AI programs are likely to continue driving the uptake of sex-sorted semen in the Australian beef industry.

The establishment of a second Australian lab to service the northern beef industry is also likely to serve as another pillar for growth – particularly while market and seasonal conditions remain favourable.

 

Source: Vetoquinol Australia, with contributions from Anthony Shelley (Genetics Australia), Bill Cornell (ABS Australia), Paul Douglas (Sexing Technologies), Geoff Woods (World Wide Sires), Mike Rose (LIC Australia), Bob Merlin (Select Sires USA) and Tim King (Hico).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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