July 25, 2022


Australian cattle breeders looking to freeze cattle sperm and eggs due to foot-and-mouth disease


Cattle breeders in Australia are considering to freeze cattle semen and eggs for use in future breeding programmes and safeguard their bloodlines following the possible threat of food-and-mouth disease (FMD) affecting the country's AUD 32 billion (~US$22.1 billion; AUD 1 = US$0.69) red meat industry, ABC News reported.


The discovery in Bali of the highly contagious animal virus, which spreads through livestock like cattle, sheep, pigs, and goats, has Australian producers on high alert.


Millions of animals could be wiped out in the event of an incursion, undoing decades' worth of breeding efforts to produce the best animals for domestic and international markets.


As insurance in case the herd needed to be rebuilt, it has prompted some stud breeders to look into the pricey option of freezing and storing bull semen and cow embryos.


Ced Wise, a veterinarian and expert on cattle, said that due to a combination of pressures and record-high cattle prices, he was busier than ever in his 46 years in the business.


He said that both little and big breeding operations were interested in storing their genetic material, which for some of the bigger operations meant thousands of animals, adding that farmers would need to preserve the herd's genetic diversity and then rebuild it using the genetic material saved.


Dr Wise said that while expensive, breeders were weighing the risks versus the costs when using artificial breeding techniques.


He said it will cost in the range of AUD 200 (~US$138.27) to AUD 300 (~US$207.40) to put an embryo on ice and put it in liquid nitrogen for preservation, which they can do quite successfully.


The price per live calf on the ground should be between AUD 400 (~US$276.53) and AUD 600 (~US$414.80), depending on the technology used.


While keeping the bull semen used for fertilisation was more affordable at AUD 4 (~US$2.77) to AUD 5 (~US$3.46) per straw, some bloodlines would only be able to keep half of the genetic material they had spent years developing if they did not also keep the embryos.


Breeders would need to choose carefully what to preserve, according to Dr Wise, but it could be a crucial defence against a variety of biosecurity threats.


It's crucial, he said, because of the Australian environment and genetics that are exclusive to Australia.


He said in the majority of breeds, they occasionally import genetics from herds abroad, but they have all been adapted to Australian environments.


Specific characteristics for the Australian beef industry, such as heat and tick resistance, meat quality, and fertility in the country's northern climates, are found only in locally bred animals and cannot be easily replaced by bloodlines from other countries.


-      ABC News

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