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Improving Science Behind the Hereford

23 September 2014

Hereford cattle are having their carcase trait and feed conversion credentials proven by a progeny evaluation project.

According to extension workers at Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), this broad collection of genetic data is also improving the accuracy of hard-to-measure traits. 

Herefords Australia Chief Executive Officer, John McKew, has great faith in the project which is improving the existing BREEDPLAN information.

He rates its ability to deliver both scientific outcomes and a morale booster for members, who are committed to continuing this $500,000 per cohort (generation) R&D investment.

“In many ways, this has brought the Hereford breeding industry together with a strength of purpose to reclaim market share and be scientifically recognised for traits such as docility and feed conversion,” he said.

"...this has brought the Hereford breeding industry together with a strength of purpose to reclaim market share and be scientifically recognised for traits such as docility and feed conversion."

“As results come in, it has started conversations between stud breeders and commercial producers about what is possible.”

The progeny test programme, running along the lines of the Beef Information Nucleus projects being undertaken by the Angus, Charolais, Limousin and Brahman breeds, was cofunded by the MLA Donor Company (which didn’t involve producer levies) for the first three years and is now industry funded.

So far, it has tested the progeny of about 50 Hereford and Poll Hereford sires considered in the top 25 per cent for important traits, write the MLA team.

It has involved 12 co-operator herds from south-west Queensland to South Australia.

Data has been collected on birth weight; calving difficulty; gestation length; 200, 400 and 600-day weights; structural soundness; docility and net feed intake.

Animals have been scanned for rib and rump fat, eye muscle area and intra-muscular fat. Full sets of Meat Standards Australia chiller assessment data have been collected and meat samples from all carcases have been analysed for tenderness, cooking loss and intramuscular fat.

The MLA team adds that, in anticipation of future genomic-based technologies, tail hairs and blood samples have been collected from all progeny to use as a source of DNA information and genotyping.

John was particularly pleased with the Cohort 2 steers’ (non HGP) performance at Wanderribby feedlot at Meningie, South Australia.

During a harsh winter, the animals recorded an average daily weight gain of 2kg by consuming 15.6kg/head/day, with a feed conversion ratio of 7.8:1.

“The 15-month-old steers were processed at Thomas Food International at Murray Bridge, recording an average carcase weight of 331kg and carcase price of $1,312,” he said.

On a corporate level, John said Herefords Australia had developed strong relationships with collaborators such as MLA, the MLA Donor Company, Agricultural Business Research Institute, the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit and Southern Beef Technology Services, which will help identify important future R&D projects.

“The only criticism we have received is not enough information has been flowing back to producers, but we have taken steps to address that by updating our website as information becomes available and including more material on the project in the Hereford Australia Magazine,” John said.

“I think that grassroots criticism is really encouraging because it shows there’s a huge level of interest from producers and industry, and it affirms our commitment and effort to continue this project as long as we can.”

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