November 20, 2019


Forum in Victoria, Australia, tackles importance of genetics in beef cattle farming


A group of South Australian beef cattle producers have been told they should think harder and smarter about the way they breed cows and buy bulls, and if necessary make some major changes to improve profitability.

This month, the inaugural Limestone Coast beef producers forum was held at Allendale (Victoria, Australia) near Bordertown, attracting 50 producers to hear from leading thinkers on herd improvement and profitability.

The forum was hosted by Poll Hereford stud breeder Alastair Day, who said while he and many attendees were from a Hereford seedstock background, they were keen to hear from others outside the sector.

"There's so much to learn, and we've all got a common goal, and we can work together and help each other with a bit of information and make it better for everyone," Day commented.

A key speaker was Victorian livestock producer and consultant Dr Jason Trompf who helps run Meat & Livestock's Bred Well Fed Well workshops which look at the benefits of superior genetics, feed management, and livestock productivity.

Dr. Trompf said there were still too many producers without a clear plan of execution.

"You've got to unpack what's driving profit on your farm," he said.

"Is it the number of breeding females? Is it reproduction rates? Is it growth rate? Most likely it's a combination of them all."

Dr. Trompf said having a clear idea of what a farmer wants to achieve with genetic improvement must fit in with the kind of operation desired.

"While markets are a factor, your management is as big a driver," he said.

"Are you a farmer who, even in the worst droughts, has cows that never come under score three? Or a farmer whose cows are going to have to work hard at different times of the year?

"It might be that your rule is that you never supplementary feed or that you've got no labor time as both husband and wife work off farm and your cows have to calve unassisted. All genetics do is set the potential and it's the combination of management and genetics where you reap the rewards."

To show how using set plans and goals to achieve genetic improvement is often ignored, Dr. Trompf gave an example from the early days of the Bred Well Fed Well programme where they asked attendees how they select their bulls.

"We asked if it was based on looks, looks and some raw data, looks plus breeding values, breeding values only, or does someone else do your breeding selection," he said.

"70% said they use breeding values as part of their selection"

"Then I asked who had a breeding goal, where they've written down the ideal cow for their operation. The answer was 10%."

However, Dr. Trompf believes some of the blame for that lies on the shoulders of people like him.

"We love talking about technology and how breeding values are calculated," Dr. Trompf said.

"We should have gone out there in genetics extension over the last 20 years and only talked about breeding objectives for a start, and then talk about how you're going to fulfill that. You reap what you sow, so you need a plan and everything needs to be aligned with that."

While Dr Trompf believes many producers should think more about how they manage their herd and choose the genetic mix they feel works best for them, he said the rewards for those who do are worth it.

- North Queensland Register