Genetics

Weekly genetics review: Don’t neglect your breeding objectives next season

Beef Central, 11/06/2024

Knudsen Cattle females near Mundubbera QLD

 

This item marks the return following a short mid-year recess of Beef Central’s popular weekly genetics review, written by breeding and genetics consultant Alastair Rayner. Alastair’s column will appear weekly as part of our genetics coverage through the 2024 spring bull selling season

 

THE traditional distinction between the autumn and spring bull sales has become less defined in recent years.  As noted previously in Beef Central, there has been some noticeable shifts in the timing of sales across the year.

These shifts have been driven by the expansion of the seedstock sector, with new bull breeders entering a competitive market, and seeking some clear space to market their cattle, combined with more established breeders also choosing sale dates in times that were traditionally less crowded and therefore more likely to capture the attention of potential customers.

This gradual extension of sale seasons has meant producers are now able to view and assess bulls as potential sires from a wider and more diverse range. It has also meant that many producers are focussing on breeding technologies and developments more frequently than they may have done in past years.

In many cases producers’ attention to technologies such as BreedPlan EBVs was greatest as they approached their preferred seedstock producer sale dates. However, with the broadening of the sales calendars, producers are increasingly exposed to information and data.

Kara Knudsen

While this exposure has been occurring, it has not necessarily increased producer understanding of the usefulness or value of these technologies within breeding programs. In fact, there still remains significant diversity of opinion of the value of many technologies including BreedPlan EBVs.  This has been highlighted by recent conversations following events including BEEF Australia 2024 and even industry field days such as the recent one held at Brian Pastures in Queensland.

In the midst of debates around breeding technologies, an often-overlooked point is to clarify what it is that a breeder or beef producer is attempting to achieve in their individual program.

Although it may be a simple point, many programs still lack a clear and distinct breeding objective.

As part of the industry seminars held during Beef Australia 2024, Mundubbera Central QLD commercial producer Kara Knudson spoke on the importance of clearly defined breeding objectives. Many producers are often reluctant to set defined objectives, however, as highlighted by Kara, establishing breeding objectives around their markets and environment have allowed her family’s beef business, Knudsen Cattle, to make specific decisions for its strategic and tactical management decisions.

A key point raised by Kara Knudson was that for commercial producers attempting to determine their genetic progress towards breeding objectives, it can be extremely difficult to measure progress due to the variations that exist within a herd as a result of nutrition and season, pasture management or management changes.

Importantly, she told the audience during her presentation that for commercial producers attempting to assess their genetic progress towards breeding objectives, it is almost impossible to determine the true change in genetic gain from one generation to another without EBVs. The reason for this is due to the variations that occur across any breeding program.

These variations includes nutritional variation from seasonal growth and supplements, pasture management decisions and general management changes.

Progress over perfection

A final thought offered by Ms Knudson was “Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress.”

This holds particularly true for producers debating the value of EBVs as part of the bull selling landscape. It is true there can be issues with data that has low levels of accuracy, particularly with new or young sires.

It is also possible that there are some bull breeders who are not always as accurate in their data recording (through inattention, simple error or by intent). However, the scale of data recorded by bull breeders and industry projects such as the Northern Repronomics projects, Industry BIN trials and even back to the CRC for Beef Cattle is such that these anomalies are corrected.

Fundamentally the object of any breeding program – from seedstock to commercial production – should be on identifying the animals within the system that are the ones most suited to the program’s breeding objectives.

This does require measurement and monitoring, however, in identifying these animals. In doing this, producers have the opportunity to make real genetic progress by joining those animals to sires with equal or better proven genetic merit. The value of robust and accurate EBVs is in the ability to identify those sires and use them in a herd to achieve specific outcomes.

The risk in waiting for perfection can often result in producers also overlooking the importance of setting some clear breeding goals and objectives for their program.

Instead of considering this season’s sires on the basis of their potential contribution towards clear goals and instead focussing on issues around breeding technologies, producers risk setting their program to a low level of genetic improvement.

 

Alastair Rayner is the Principal of RaynerAg, an agricultural advisory service based in NSW.  RaynerAg is affiliated with BJA Stock & Station Agents.  He regularly lists and sell cattle for clients as well attending bull sales to support client purchases.  Alastair provides pre-sale selections and classifications for seedstock producers in NSW, Qld, and Victoria.  He can be contacted here or through his website www.raynerag.com.au

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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