VETERAN Queensland Brahman breeder Alf Collins Sr was saluted by his peers recently when he was awarded the 2017 Helen Newton Turner Medal during the Association for the Advancement of Animal Breeding and Genetics conference in Townsville
With almost missionary zeal, Mr Collins has followed a lifetime crusade of breeding fertile, functional Brahman cattle at his Collins Belah Valley Brahmans enterprise near Marlborough in Central Queensland.
The AAABG’s medal, established in 1993, honours the memory of outstanding CSIRO livestock geneticist, Helen Newton Turner. It is awarded to provide encouragement and inspiration to those engaged in animal genetics. The medallist is chosen by trustees from the ranks of those persons who themselves have made an outstanding contribution to genetic improvement of Australian livestock.
Building on the foundations established by his father, Alf Collins Snr has applied dedication, careful recording and rigorous focus on breeding for profitability, to the continuous improvement of Brahman cattle in the CBV herd.
He says Brahman cattle have to perform in very challenging environments, and breeding programs to deliver genetic improvement in those environments are challenging too – reflecting large scale of operations and variable climatic conditions.
Mr Collins has met these challenges head-on and collected performance records underpinning reliable EBVs and used the information backed by hard-nosed practical understanding of functionality and survival ability, to generate impressive genetic progress over a number of decades.
Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of that genetic progress is the substantial progress in female fertility – a trait considered challenging among breeders of tropically adapted cattle world-wide. CBV has actively participated in industry R&D, including significant contributions to the Beef CRC programs I, II and III.
“Mr Collins is a deep thinker about what cattle need to do in the tropical environment, and has never been afraid to try novel approaches or include new traits if they will help breeding cattle better and better suited to the environment and to improving profit,” AAABG said in its commendation.
“He continues to be an outstanding pioneer and innovator in real-world application of genetics technology, and the demonstration that it is possible to breed genetically fertile, productive and profitable tropically adapted cattle is an inspiration.”
Published below is Alf Collins’ acceptance speech delivered during the AAABG conference in Townsville:
Instruments to make big jobs into small ones.
Genetics, management, and speed.
All thanks be to God, for all the cattle, people and opportunities that He has put in our path.
Today, part of that thanks is to the Helen Newton-Turner Trust that has chosen to honour me with this medal of recognition. This is beyond my understanding or expectation to be honoured by such eminent and worthy scholars.
I intend to honour some of the wonderful people and livestock with which God has guided and stimulated my brief road in management, genetics, and thinking.
Wind beneath our wings comes in many forms and directions.
RB McNaught in primary school was inspirational; Rodney M Deeth could teach me Maths B and make the theorems so interesting and challenging. I still keep in touch with him. I left formal schooling aged 13, and raced into the realities of commerce and genetics.
In 1966, George Starritt and family employed me, and inspired me with their progressive breeding of sheep. 1967 I travelled alone into Middle East, Europe and Latin America, thence to USA.
At all times, I had a quest for people and pathways of excellence.
In Britain, Yorkshire yielded Harry Morrell, measuring and breeding Friesians based on cost and net yields. At that time when gross mass of milk cows was sweeping the world irrespective of cost, Mr Morrell had chalk boards above every cow, and scales and milk testing, hunting for efficiency and genetic answers. He found them, with the result that his Friesians were the size of robust Jersies. His results were extraordinary, and he treated me like a son. The resolute James McGowan in Scotland proved all things were possible with determination, thought and hard work.
Steve Abecasis in Venezuela, many others through Latin America, lead me to Harry Gayden in Houston, and Jack Garrett, as guides and mentors. At every stop-over there were volumes of inspiration, in useful things to do and mistakes to avoid.
I sought Dr Max Hammond, a graduate of LSU, past manager of Brooksville Research Station, who was president of Performance Register International, and managing Bill Stuarts’ Brahman herd of roughly 600 cows. He was seeking fitness for function in a breed and an age that was not fashionable and without the tools of today that we employ. Dr Hammond was always aiming high, with disciplined management , cattle and matters of faith. He was hugely successful, in my mind.
Through Dr Hammond I attended a short-course at University of Florida, Gainseville, where some of my heroes of research and extension operated.
The trio of Dr Tony Cunha, Dr Marvin Koger, and the resolute Dr Alvin Warnick were in full flight. They were so practical, and so competent in communicating in both directions with cattle ranchers, exhibiting in themselves “fitness for function” in every way. My father engendered in me a hunger for published research bulletins, as did his brother , Harry. Those Florida guys were right in there, with some from LSU, Texas A & M, and our CSIRO.
At the age of 88 years Dr Warnick mentioned to one of his early students, Bob Crane who regularly looked in on Dr Warnick, that he really wanted to go to Australia to CBV to explore first hand what he had read and heard about our methods and goals. He figured that he was really too old. Bob Crane left his house and promptly booked tickets for his old Professor. We were honoured and inspired. At every stop, as we travelled, Dr Warnick had some more questions and challenges penciled in his notebook. We had a great morning at Rendall Laaboratory, in Rockhampton, including retired and current researchers. Greig Turner and Doc Warnick were the elders, and lit right up in discussions.
The benefits of Dr Warnick’s pondering have enormous value, and continued personally right up to his death earlier this year.
Larry Cundiff was always wonderful with his open doors at Clay Centre, to his fine teams of thinkers. Cattlemen such as Paul Genho, Tom Lassater, Steve Radakovich, Robin Giles, Kit Pharo, Gregg Simonds, and many others have been so encouraging in mentoring, by example, in discussion, and debate.
I never met Dr Bob Taylor, but many of his past students carried his legacy to our door. Thank God for all those links.
A common thread in most of these wonderful people was an awareness of the burning need to search for commercially relevant traits on a low cost, high expectation level.
From the late 1950’s my father took me to CSIRO, and short courses on management and genetics. We were richly blessed to have Belmont research station on our doorstep. Dr RB Kelley was a byword in our home. His books were read time after time, and when I called to visit him in retirement he received me like a son. He showed great courage in the face of powerful opposition as he selected cattle and sponsored early research on Zebu cattle in Australia. CSIRO had an amazing culture in those days, hallmarked with spirited debate, kindness, generosity, intellectual agility, and courage. Dr Turner, Dr Vercoe, D’Occhio, Frisch, Seifert, O’Neill, all carried the flame for betterment. UQ had Professor John Francis, Professor Ray Johnson, Professor Butterfield from University of Sydney; they always inspired. UNE seconded Dr Hans Graser from Germany to lead the new generation of analysis, and his teams are now legendary. Across the street, another legend in UNE, Jack Allen at ABRI took the commercial product to cattle breeders, and has worked tirelessly to keep the mathematics of Breedplan relevant to animal breeders and skeptics alike.
Jack Allen and Peter Speer were the keys for us to develop Brahman Breedplan, using the existing Flekvieh/ Simmental database, and then when we were given years of back-data from CSIRO and the UQ Gatton herds, our previous collaborations really yielded fruit. Ken Rowan and Chris O’Neill were monumental in their efforts to have this done.
Earliest breeders of these humped adapted species had those same qualities, full of encouragement and thought.
Lionel DeLandelles stood so tall, with Maurice DeTournouer, and then Ken Coombe, in the pioneer days of adapted cattle. In their day, they measured what they could, illustrating what was possible with adapted cattle. There were simply no insurmountable obstacles, to these courageous friends and mentors.
Then came Dr Michael D’Occhio, and Dr Jim Kinder right into our stockyard, to continue their research in reproduction. This was a great leap forward, and the last 30 years have been illuminated by all the great minds they sponsored over our threshold, and their continued stimulation. Wonderful men of science.
That lengthy preamble of the fine folks that inspired my youth was probably necessary, in order to effectively lead us into the realm and integrity of Professor D’Occhio.
By his good grace, we have been introduced to higher research, and are now working on a project with Professor Ben Hayes and Professor Mike Goddard.
Reproduction and survival has always been our CBV focus, at a low cost of production.
This is rarely addressed in academic pursuits, and there lies the rock that fractures our links of science to application.
Most research stations around the world operate at a cost per kilogram that the average cattleman would choke on. It is too easy.
The take home message is that inspirational scientists in my world communicated freely with outstanding managers of livestock and land. They actually knew about cost of production, and the harsh blowtorch of economics and profit and loss. That gap needs attention, and nurturing.
This does not exempt cattlemen from making every effort to capture the essence of research, and adapting it to commercial reality.
That essence of scientific research has been the wind over our wings at CBV.
One of my heroes, Dr John Vercoe illustrated this to me with his chart of the effect of environmental stress on growth heterosis. As costs go down, stress increases, and heterosis evaporates.
That was a bell ringing revelation. John Vercoe was amazed that more cattle breeders did not understand stress and heterosis, and more so, that the importance of reproduction was not registering in genetic selection. Vercoe’s facilitating D’Occhio and Kinder into our herds and our present thinking showed courage and great foresightâ€¦wind for our wings.
Reproduction speed and survival can almost exclusively direct financial survival. Never underestimate the role of truly adapted cattle in this hunt for reproduction. Most of the land mass of Australia, and in fact most places in the world where beef cattle graze, can be greatly augmented by adapted genotypes selected for reproduction and survival at low cost.
- Low cost; never forget it.
- Reproduction at low cost.
- Survival at low cost.
- Management at low cost.
- Simple, isn’t it.
Our management template of breeding cattle is based on rigor and transparency, and I have caution about genetic predictors without rigor, and stressors, in the field.
In all the complexities of science and nature, we know it is a simple goal; we also acknowledge these proposals are neither easy nor simple.
At CBV we are dedicated to the hard yards of unraveling complexities with cash and kind, not at all daunted by the skin we can lose in this game.
Our philosophy does vary from most seedstock operations in the reality that we operate just like our best clients at a low commercial cost, with no expensive sale-stock packaging, and we do not seek a flamboyant sale of psychological bidding shoot-outs. We are simply hunting for profits for our clients on capital invested , inside their barbed wire. Those clients in turn, have supported us.
Overarching honour to my parents Jarvis and Jean Collins, uncles Harry and Lee Collins, past wife Wendy, and our children and grandchildren who have been so supportive of our sometimes wild or “unheard-of” plans, during three generations.
Our core clients all over the world, who ran with us in trying our new management templates and genetics, also provoked us, and helped us fund our dreams and explorations whilst buying bulls or semen.
Thank you for this honour of the Helen Newton Turner Medal. I am deeply touched by how I have been welcomed into such a wonderful group of scholars.
Long live the curious mind.
What a wonderful world God has given us to explore.