Opinion: Benchmarking against global gene pools best strategy for beef seedstock

Peter Parnell, Angus Australia, 10/03/2018

Angus Australia’s Dr Peter Parnell responds to last week’s article on lamb seedstock producer Tom Bull’s views about the beef seedstock industry….  


I enjoyed reading the piece on Tom Bull’s presentation at the recent MLA Genetics Forum (click here to view Beef Central’s earlier article).

Peter Parnell

Drawing parallels between what has apparently been achieved with genetic evaluation in the sheep industry and what might be appropriate in the beef industry can be misleading.  The Sheep Genetics evaluation is an isolated within-country analysis, which may make a lot of sense in an industry where Australia dominates the global gene pool.

In the beef world, irrespective of what breed you look at, Australia is a relatively small proportion of the global gene pool.  Consequently, to maximise genetic progress in Australian beef herds it is arguably more important to pursue effective international genetic benchmarking rather than diverting our energy and investment into within-country across-breed evaluation.

Even if across-breed genetic evaluation options were available at some point in the future, Australian breeders would need to decide if it is more important to compare their genetics with other breeds within Australia, or to continue to benchmark against global gene pools.  Our market research indicates that, at least in the Angus breed, most breeders view the latter as far more important for driving future genetic improvement and for pursuing future export opportunities for Australian Angus genetics.

Documented genetic trends show that Angus breeders in Australia have historically made world-leading rates of genetic gain through commitment to performance based selection coupled with the use of BreedPlan and effective utilisation of the global Angus gene pool.

Angus BreedPlan already includes a multi-breed component with the calculation of EBVs for Angus-influenced crossbred and composite animals.  This relies on having a network of genetic links among animals included in the analysis. The lack of genetic links between different breeds (almost by definition) will make broad-scale across-breed evaluation very difficult or impossible to achieve without substantial investment in research to benchmark breed differences and quantify heterosis (hybrid vigour) for inclusion in the analysis. This research would take many years to complete and would absorb much of the available genetics R&D budget.

“The availability of across-breed EBVs would not necessarily change breeding decisions made by commercial producers or impact rates of genetic progress”

Rather than committing massive investment into across-breed evaluation, Angus Australia believes that R&D effort may be better directed at improving the existing genetic evaluation model and more rapid incorporation of genomics and related technology. Unless continuous improvement of our existing genetic evaluation technology is not pursued, then it will no longer be world’s best practice or the method of choice for future evaluation.

The availability of across-breed EBVs would not necessarily change breeding decisions made by commercial producers or impact rates of genetic progress. Even in commercial crossbreeding programs, animal selection decisions are usually made on a within-breed basis. The combination of breed attributes in a structured crossbreeding program is a proven way to enhance profitability. However, this does not necessarily require the ability to directly compare genetics across breeds, but rather to select the most suitable animals within each component breed included in the crossbreeding program.

Incorporating data from commercial industry databases can increase the amount of useful information included in genetic evaluation. However, proprietary ownership of data and legal restrictions around access to public databases currently make this very difficult to achieve on a broad scale. Nevertheless, through mutual partnership arrangements with other participants in the supply chain, a considerable amount of useful commercial data is already incorporated into Angus BreedPlan.

Angus Australia is committed to expanding the genetic evaluation opportunities available to commercial breeders.  For example,  the Angus HeiferSelect tool released in 2017 enables commercial breeders to utilise genomics testing to assist in selection of heifer replacements. We are currently exploring options for the development of similar tools for use in selecting feeder steers for different finishing programs.

As genomics testing becomes cheaper such tools are expected to have widespread application in the commercial sector.  But, by the very nature of genomics, this will be highly breed-specific and will rely on having strong breed based genomic reference populations.


– Peter Parnell



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  1. Daryl Jenkins, 13/03/2018

    The Angus society has to be admired for their superb promotion of the breed. They have created an illusion based on coat colour. From multi-nationals (eg McDonalds), through processors, feedlots, cattle buyers, agents and producers the importance of coat colour is stressed. The stupidity of this is demonstrated by some totally unrelated breeds adopting the black coat colour. The variation within breeds of cattle is quite often greater than the variation between breeds so the ability to select the most appropriate animals for specific markets is very important if the beef industry is to progress. As Tom Bull rightly points out, if we rely simply on coat colour as a selection criteria, the beef industry will fall further behind. The mechanism to identify the most appropriate cattle for specific markets is another topic all together. None of this is a criticism of the Angus breed but of the industry in general for the obsession with coat colour.

    Thanks for your comment, Daryl. We think it is somewhat harsh to describe Angus’s popularity as an “illusion based on coat-colour.” Surely the defining feature that has driven Angus success worldwide is meat quality performance, specifically marbling. The fact that some other breeds have sought to progress black derivatives in their animals is imitation – the sincerest for of flattery. Editor

  2. Paul D. Butler, 13/03/2018

    “It is inaccurate to suggest, or imply, that BLUP (EPD) analysis will allow accurate comparisons of all economically important traits across all environments. A trait such as fertility is determined by hormonal balance (largely unaffected by environment) with body condition (largely a reflection of environmental adaptation). It is therefore subjected to genotype X environment interaction. Animals performing well in one environment may perform poorly in a different environment. This is reflected in fertility. No mathematical model can correct for this in order to allow animals be compared across environments with regard to traits that are subject to genotype X environment interaction”

    A Johann Zietsman quote from MAN, CATTLE and VELD

  3. Mike Introvigne, 12/03/2018

    Peter Parnell’s comments are exactly what I would expect from Angus Australia because they simply don’t believe in crossbreeding. As a seedstock producer of Black Simmental, I have found that our ever increasing client base are seeing the benefits of crossing their Angus cows to produce superior performing calves and they are embracing maternal hybrid vigor with gusto. Our herd is recorded with the American Simmental Association which utilise the most advanced multi breed evaluation in the world where our herd is benchmarked against over 17 million animals from 12 different breeds. That is what I call genetic progress, not a single breed evaluation with minimal influence from other breeds. It is time to look and think outside the Angus box, after all it isn’t Angus that has made the breed so dominant but the retail and food service sector who use an easy marketing tool to promote their wares.

  4. Mike Buchanan, 12/03/2018

    A major problem with crossbreed EBVs is the huge variation in trait performance – such as marbling – between breeds, that is not properly identified within BreedPlan. No beef breed except Wagyu consistently achieves the local maximum AusMeat MS9, but that is less than half of actual FB WY MS measured in Japanese metrics. Yet we have had Australian academics telling us AA ‘can catch up’. Sure: who created the metric? This is just counterproductive rubbish.

  5. Ben Haseler, 12/03/2018

    The message in Tom’s address reminded me of a quote by John Vallance – “In Australia we love measuring things, but by measuring things you often destroy what you are trying to measure.”

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