A research project based in the Northern Territory has developed a draft Breedplan Selection Index for the northern live export industry, while also exploring the current barriers to adoption Breedplan in genetic improvement programs across the region.
The use of EBVs is not widely accepted in the extensive production systems of Northern Australia. The most recent survey of the NT Pastoral Industry reported that 35 percent of Top End producers used EBVs in bull selection; 22pc in the Katherine Region; and 65pc on the Barkly Tableland.
The survey also showed that a major reason for the low level of objective bull selection appears to be the lack of an agreed basis on which the NT industry should be selecting. The NT?s harsh semi-arid environment and store markets favour the use of resilient animals without an over-emphasis on any one production trait.
This suggested that the first step should be the creation of a Selection Index ($Index) for Brahman cattle in NT production systems.
Currently, only a Jap Ox $Index has been developed for use for selection of Brahman cattle. This index is targeted at the grassfed Jap Ox production system typically seen in Central and Northern Queensland, turning off a 600kg liveweight steer at 32 months and producing replacement females.
Data collected through producer workshops and property visits contributed to the development of the draft Northern live export Selection Index, somewhat akin to $Indexes used by southern Angus breeders targeting specific markets in bull selection.
A final project report summary released by Meat & Livestock Australia this week explained that uptake of objective genetic tools like Breedplan across the Katherine region was poor, however anecdotal evidence suggested that there was a growing emphasis among local cattlemen on selection for growth characteristics.
This is much easier to select for visually and leads to increased mature cow size, at the expense of fertility.
The R&D project had the key objective of providing training in, and promoting the use of objective technologies for genetic selection, creating a $Index which reduces the confusion of sire selection based on multiple individual EBV traits, and identifying some of the current barriers to adoption of genetic technologies by producers in the region.
An initial workshop was held which allowed training for attendees in EBV and Selection Index theory.
This ensured participants were sufficiently skilled to provide input into the parameters required to generate a Northern Live Export $Index for Brahmans.
Evaluation showed participants were generally enthusiastic about the potential for Breedplan EBVs and a $Index to improve the profitability of their business and indicated their intention to use the technology for future decisions relating to improving the genetics of their herds.
A series of property visits were also made for one-to-one consultation to increase the number of producers involved in providing data. Based on the workshop and individual consultation, a $Index was generated that was presented to members of the Katherine Pastoral Industry Advisory Committee (KPIAC) for approval.
That committee felt the index did not sufficiently represent the requirement for emphasis on fertility. Soon after this feedback from the committee, the Indonesian market enforced the 350kg weight limit on all live exports and another round of consultation was required to incorporate these changed parameters into the index.
The final consultative process involved re-presentation of the proposed $Index to KPIAC at an industry workshop which also included training sessions around the benefits of and how to use EBVs and $Indexes. The committee endorsed the $Index and it has since been released on the Breedplan website for use by producers.
Generally, it was found when producers received some training and information around the benefits and use of EBVs and Selection Index they tended to be enthusiastic about their potential to improve the performance of their herd. The key barrier to increased uptake was identified as the lack of bulls with objective information available.
A key recommendation from KPIAC was to widen the promotion of the project and to enable more producers in the region to benefit from the training provided at workshops.
Educating northern producers of the value of these tools would ensure they are more likely to seek EBV and Selection Index information, create an industry demand which should motivate tropically adapted seedstock producers to value the importance of this information and make it more readily available to their clients.
- The project's final report can be viewed here.