AGBU’s genetic improvement R&D priorities for 2014

Beef Central, 14/01/2014


Developing new traits and new ways of using pedigree, performance data and genomic information collected on animals, will be the main priority areas for the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit in 2014, the organisation’s director Rob Banks says.

Rob BanksAGBU contributes to genetic improvement in the beef industry through research aimed at helping breeders and producers identify animals with the best genes for profitable beef production, and to make the best use of those animals in cost-effective bull-breeding and commercial production enterprises.

The unit receives significant funding from Meat and Livestock Australia to support this work, along with inputs and assistance from the Agricultural Business Research Institute, breed societies, bull breeders and other stakeholders in Australia’s beef supply chains.

The priorities for AGBU’s work program are established through a combination of direct consultation with industry, with service partners such as ABRI and breed societies, as well as through an MLA-AGBU beef genetics consultative committee, chaired by MLA director, Lucinda Corrigan, a seedstock producer from southern NSW.

AGBU plays a major role in developing the Breedplan technology, including adding new traits and new ways of using information collected on animals, whether that be pedigree, performance data or genomic information. The outputs of that work are the EBVs and $Indexes used by hundreds of bull breeders across Australia and overseas, and guidance on how best to design breeding programs at the herd and breed level.

“These two areas of work will be the main focus of R&D priorities this year,” AGBU director Rob Banks told stakeholders recently.

He said a range of new traits currently under development included:

  • new fertility traits, especially for breeds and composites used in northern Australia
  • better ways of handling feed intake and costs,
  • the relationships between production traits such as growth rate and carcase merit, and traits such as fertility and cow longevity
  • handling methane production, both as a potential direct cost to beef enterprises in the future and as an indication of feed energy not used by the animal
  • and generally, ensuring that the genetic analysis reflects the cattle we have today – an example being to adjust carcase traits such as fat and eye muscle to the heavier carcase weights  typical of industry today.

Single Step approach

New methods of handling information on animals was now heavily focussed on the best way to use DNA information within the Breedplan genetic evaluation, Dr Banks said.

“AGBU has played a key role in the Beef CRC Research which helped build our initial understanding of such data and its use. AGBU is now working on evolving Breedplan to be able to use pedigree, performance data and genotype information (from DNA tests) simultaneously, in what is known as the Single Step approach,” he said.

“This is the most accurate way of using DNA information, and overcomes the need to separately train and then validate DNA prediction equations as is done currently. Implementation of Single Step will make combining pedigree, performance and DNA data seamless from the point of view of the bull-breeder, and the output will be EBVs that properly incorporate whatever DNA information is available.”

Building on these two areas of work, AGBU is working on ways of understanding the value of different sorts of records – performance data, DNA data – to help breeders and breeds design their breeding programs with the right balance of cost, results and risk.

“This will become increasingly important as the uptake of genomic tools is expected to grow over the coming years,” Dr Banks said.

He said overall, AGBU’s R&D priorities were consistent with MLA’s goals for genetics and genomics R&D and extension, in ensuring that:

  • bull buyers can make informed choices in buying bulls, by making sure that Breedplan is as accurate as possible for traits that impact profit and enterprise sustainability
  • bull breeders know how to use Breedplan to make as rapid genetic progress as possible.

Commercial or seedstock producers with questions or suggestions regarding AGBU’s R&D priorities can contact Rob Banks via email at





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