Beef could learn from dairy genetics model

Australia’s Southern beef industry would benefit from adopting a dairy industry program which has almost doubled genetic gain in the past eight years.

That’s the opinion of agribusiness leader and NSW beef breeder Lucinda Corrigan.

L Corrigan
NSW beef producer, Lucinda Corrigan,
says Australia’s Southern beef industry
would benefit from adopting a dairy
industry program which has almost
doubled genetic gain in the past eight

Ms Corrigan was speaking at the dairy industry’s herd improvement and breeding conference, Herd ’19, at Bendigo recently.

The Australian dairy industry released genomic breeding values a decade ago; it also released three new sire indices and placed more focus on health traits such as fertility.

This lifted genetic gain from about 1 to 2 per cent per year (see graph) and it was all off-the-back of extensive records from more than 30,000 cows through the Ginfo (short for Genomic Information) project. The records include both performance (phenotype) and genetic (genotype) information.

“The Ginfo model is a world leader in sharing the costs of phenotyping and genotyping across the industry. It forms a great example that could be mirrored by the southern Beef industry” she said.

Ginfo is a large-scale genotyping project which underpins Australia’s genomic information reference herd. It includes more than 100 commercial Holstein and Jersey herds with excellent records.

It’s administered by DataGene, an independent and industry-owned organisation tasked with driving genetic gain and herd improvement through research, development and extension.

Ms Corrigan runs a multigenerational beef genetics business including 1500 performance recorded Angus cows, out of a total 3,500, and is also a director of DataGene.

She said there’s “ideas at play” when it comes to collecting beef phenotypes, but she admired how dairy farmers shared the responsibility of contributing to the national database and the industry was able to “socialise” its’ cost.

“In the southern beef industry, the reference population here is a bit hit-and-miss, depending on the size of the breed and the depth of performance recording,” she said. “In addition, there’s post farmgate data collected by Meat Standards Australia which would enhance the important consumer traits. There are a lot of breeds: Herefords, Angus, European breeds such as Limousin and Charolais and the smaller Shorthorns and Murray Greys. Currently, there would only be a couple of breeds in southern Australia which would be collecting enough phenotypes for a reference population that was robust.”

Collecting and maintaining a phenotype database was the topic of a beef industry meeting in Armidale, NSW last month, which was addressed by Professor Ben Hayes, a genetics researcher who helped pioneer dairy’s genomic breeding values.

Professor Hayes provided a review of 10 years of genomic breeding values in Australia at the Herd19 conference and concluded the industry had sped-up the rate of genetic gain and decreased the interval between generations.

One way this has been achieved was through decreasing the age of sires used to breed bulls for artificial insemination.

This age reduced from 7.5 years to two-to-three years. Professor Hayes said this indicated AI companies were “intensively” selecting sires of sons using genomic breeding values.

“The amount of genetic gain you make in any breeding program is the result of how intensively you select, times the reliability of the genomic breeding values, times how much genetic variation you have, divided by the generation interval,” Professor Hayes said.

“That’s how long it takes you to turn over a generation.” 

 Apart from accelerating the trajectory of genetic gain, genomic breeding values also increased the reliability of traits that were previously difficult to select for, such as fertility. Genomics was part of a multi-pronged approach to improving the industry issue of decline fertility in the nation’s largest breed Holsteins.