Northern Australia is a unique area of the country in many ways, and cattle production is no different. Queensland beef producer Kara Knudsen believes the needs of her industry are so unique, she embarked on a scholarship to specifically research genetic progression in the north Australian beef herd. Kara, along with her husband Darcy and two kids, breeds Santa Gertrudis cattle on their property 350 west of Bundaberg. Her push for improved cattle genetics is driven predominantly by a desire for a more profitable industry.
“There’s no doubt that if we can improve genetics we can improve our bottom lines – the cost of genetics is sometimes quite expensive and most of industry is only using traditional methods, and not getting the best out of what we are already purchasing. That’s where the scholarship fits in – I was really looking at better and cheaper ways of accelerating genetic progression through reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination (AI) and embryo transfer, so trying to get the best genetics out that we have, cheaply and on a large scale,” she explains.
Kara says with a more successful history of fixed-time AI in Bos Taurus cattle such as Angus, Hereford and other European breeds, it’s time to improve the techniques for the northern Bos Indicus breeds.
”I went in search of what people were doing in similar environments such as Argentina and Uruguay and found they were doing AI there on the breeds and also at the size and scale I wanted to look at. In particular I had my heart set on seeing Argentina-based Dr Gabriel Bo, a world leader in reproductive technology, particularly in tropically-adapted cattle, and Argentina does a lot of AI on their herds, so that was the main reason I wanted to go there. The second benefit was they certainly have a lot of the same climatic conditions and a tougher environment in the south and I also looked at sheep reproduction while I was there, which I found very enlightening for me going back into cattle,” she says.
However, it wasn’t just South America where Kara uncovered valuable information, with the Canadian dairy industry also proving to be a worthwhile visit.
“When I was in Guelph, Ontario, I met with people from the university there talking genetics and genomics and mapping genotype, and what I took away was that we’ve certainly got to go a lot further in Australia with those sorts of things. I also went to Semex headquarters, where they have about 500 bulls and they are taking semen from them every day – they are extensively using genomics as well as AI, which has given them a huge lift in production. I’ve started trialling tactics like temporary weaning of cows during AI and I’ll probably be re-syncing my heifers this year to further reduce my calving period. But I got far more out of it than just my own topic, I looked at a lot of other things that we will probably incorporate in our business later on, such as value-adding, looking closer at our costs of production and how we can do things differently and whether or not there are other industries we can add or complement to our existing business” Kara concludes.