Weekly genetics review: Composite bulls finding growing niche in the beef industry

Genetics editor Alex McDonald , 18/09/2018

Contract-bred young Ultrablack bulls on the Barkly Tableland


RECENT spring bull sale results, including the 100 percent clearance of 61 Ultrablacks at the Palgrove annual sale on Friday, topping at $22,000 with an impressive average of $7451, are highlighting the ongoing role of composite bulls in the Australian beef industry.

The sale followed a similar complete clearance of 18 Ultrablack composite bulls at the Central Highlands bull sale at Emerald, Qld to a top of $11,500 and an average of $6583.

Burenda Angus and Brangus stud will offer 30 slightly higher Bos Indicus content, ‘Burenda Black’ composites at Clermont on 4 October and the Nindooinbah seedstock operation near Beaudesert in southern Queensland will offer 59 Ultrablack bulls at its on-property sale on 11 October.

Why the demand for Ultrablack bulls? Ultrablacks are produced by crossing three-eighth Brahman content Brangus bulls with Angus dams with the aim of producing slick-coated, high content Angus cattle with a maximum of three-sixteenth Bos Indicus blood.

They are used as an efficient way to introduce Angus genetics into Bos Indicus-dominant herds in more challenging conditions in northern and coastal Australia, and also British breed herds in the drier western country to increase fertility and carcase quality.

Principal of the Palgrove stud, David Bondfield, said feedback from commercial clients was that they liked the increased fertility of the composite bulls and their daughters and also the temperament and hardiness of the Ultrablacks.

“Most of our Ultrablacks go north but we have sold bulls into pure Angus herds where they provide some hybrid vigour and some extra hardiness,” he said.

Palgrove currently sell around 300 Ultrablack bulls per year, and intends to increase this further depending on demand.

“We started breeding Ultrablacks in 2010, so the herd is now up to third generation Ultrablack, but it is not a closed herd,” Mr Bondfield said.

“We have continued to introduce new Angus and Brangus genetics and our recent arrangement with the Genetrust Group in southern US will give us access to even more Brangus and Ultrablack genetics.”

Despite the relatively recent appearance of the Ultrablack, the concept of composite cattle is not new. The Santa Gertrudis, Droughtmaster, Brangus, and Braford breeds are all composite breeds based on British breeds such as Shorthorn, Angus or Hereford crossed with Brahman and stabilised.

The Charbray and Simbrah breeds were developed by combining the European breeds, Charolais or Simmental with Brahman.

The Belmont Red breed is a composite of the Hereford, Shorthorn and Africander breeds and the breed known as Tropical Composites is based on Belmont Red but has introduced other tropical breeds such as Tuli and Senepol.

The more recently developed Speckle Park is a composite of Shorthorn, Galloway, British White and probably the Belgian Blue breed.

Large pastoral companies, NAPCO, Australian Agricultural Co and Consolidated Pastoral Co have developed their own sophisticated composite breeding programs since the 1990s

In southern Australia, some forward thinking and passionate breeders have developed multiple breed, composite cattle based on British and European breeds over the last 20 years with moderate success in terms of their marketability.

Here’s some other interesting examples of composite bull breeding programs on offer in Australia:

Hicks Australian Beef Composite

Andrew and Anne Hicks, Holbrook, NSW developed an Australian Beef Composite with 50 percent red or black Angus, 25 percent Simmental and 25 percent Gelbvieh genetics about 20 years ago.

Their son, Tom, who now manages the herd, said their goal was to increase the return per hectare for their clients by combining the best traits from several breeds plus hybrid vigour.

“While we keep the breed content of our composite fairly constant, we are more concerned that the figures are good, rather than the exact breed percentage,” he said.

“We generally use Simmental X Angus and Gelbvieh X Angus bulls in rotation. Hybrid vigour is most valuable for maternal traits such as fertility and longevity and we estimate that it increases overall productivity of a herd by about 15 percent.”

Multi-breed genetic analysis

All of the Hicks’ pedigree and performance data is sent to the American Simmental Association where it is analysed by International Genetic Solutions  (IGS)which conducts a multi-breed genetic analysis including 13 breeds.

“The more data we send there the more confident I become in the Estimated Progeny Differences (EPDs) they produce for our composite herd. I know it works,” Mr Hicks said.

“We use the IGS All Purpose Index which puts a lot of pressure on maternal traits and not so much on growth, so it holds cow size down and maximises production per hectare.

“Our clients are now using this index a lot more to select bulls, so the correlation between the index and price is getting stronger,” he said.

At their annual on farm sale the Hicks’s offer both red and black composites. The black composites generally go into Angus herds in the south, while their red composites tend to go into northern herds.

Coota Park Blue E

Jonathon Wright established a 50 percent Angus, 50 percent Shorthorn composite in 1996 by first crossing his Shorthorn cows with good Angus bulls on Coota Park, Woodstock, NSW.

The seedstock herd has been retained as an open composite herd by buying in Shorthorn heifers from performance-recorded Shorthorn herds and joining them by AI to the best Angus bulls available to produce replacement bulls.

A unique feature of the herd is that all bull progeny are tested for feed efficiency and actively selected for Net Feed Efficiency.

“For many years we recorded the herd was with Angus Australia and our cattle were generally ranked in the top five percent for Net Feed Efficiency,” Mr Wright said.

The herd is now recorded with the Leachman Cattle Co in the US, which conducts a multi-breed genetic analysis which utilises feed efficiency in its $Profit Index.

“We have now decided to open up our composite to other breeds, but will continue to select heavily on the $Profit Index and not limit ourselves to the Shorthorn and Angus breeds,” Mr Wright said.

He said Coota Park Blue E bull clients are generally commercial breeders who understood the advantages of crossbreeding and hybrid vigour, and are “not so concerned about coat colour.”

“They are generally 300 to 500 cow operations seeking to maximise the kilograms of beef they turn off per hectare, and they keep coming back,” he said.

“My greatest frustration is the pre-occupation of our industry with coat colour, when I know that our red and roan composite cattle have all of the same traits as our black cattle,” Mr Wright said.

Paringa Stabilizers

As well as breeding Charolais and Angus, Tom and Olivia Lawson have been breeding and selling Stabilizer composites for a number of years at Yea in Victoria.

The Stabilizer breed is a multi-breed composite developed by Leachman Cattle Co in the US. The original composition was based on 25pc of four breeds: Angus, Hereford, Simmental and Gelbvieh.

The composite represented the commercialisation of more than 30 years of research at the Meat Clay Centre’s Animal Research Centre, Nebraska based on production per hectare, Mr Lawson said.

The Stabilizer combined the fleshing ability, marbling and moderate size of the British breeds with the muscle, milk and growth of the European breeds. As a four breed composite, the Stabilizer retains 75pc of the F1 hybrid vigour.

“The females over their life-span are proven to wean 23pc more weight than their purebred counterparts,” Mr Lawson said.

Combining auction sales and contract breeding, the Lawsons sell about 50 black and 50 red composite bulls each year, to all parts of Australia.

“Our clients tend to be professional, integrated operations who supply Coles, Woolworths or JBS,” he said.

“David Allen of Boorook Partners, Woorndoo, Victoria who was named third best supplier to the JBS Great Southern beef program recently has been using our Stabilizer bulls for the last 10 years.”

All of the data is sent to Leachman Cattle Co for analysis in Leachman’s multibreed analysis.

“Our clients really home-in on the $profit Index because it is powerful and simple,” Mr Lawson said.



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  1. Andrew Hope, 04/10/2020

    Are there any black composite programs using the Mashona to increase heat tolerance etc while reducing the % of Indicus genes needed?

  2. Nathan Post, 04/02/2019

    Speckles are not composites.
    This breed was developed in the 50’s by crossing three British breeds: Teeswater Shorthorn, Aberdeen Angus and British White. There is no Galloway or Belgian Blue in their genetics.

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