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Supporter Information: 

The Yulgilbar Foundation is a family run Private Ancillary Fund and was established in 2001 by Baillieu and Sarah Myer.


The Yulgilbar Foundation’s area of focus is rural, regional and remote Australia and more specifically, on education, environment, capacity building and Alzheimer’s research.

The family have had a long standing involvement in the rural industry, particularly in Northern NSW and are passionate to see rural and regional Australia prosper.


Rebecca Burnham

Optimising Beef Genetic Selection in Northern Australia


To ensure northern Australia’s beef industry is equipped to be profitable and meet evolving social and environmental pressures, greater focus must be placed on optimising genetic gain through the accurate selection of nonvisual profit-driving traits. That’s according to 2019 Scholar and Western Queensland beef producer, Rebecca Burnham, who with support from The Yulgilbar Foundation, investigated how modern technologies could be better utilised to increase measurement above the 15 per cent of bulls currently presented with breeding values in northern Australia.



Travelling across Colombia, Kenya, Qatar, New Zealand, Canada, Eastern Europe, the United States (US), Brazil, Ireland, Italy and Australia, Ms Burnham visited producers, researchers, universities, private research stations and genetic centres to identify and observe where significant genetic gains in beef were achieved.


In Kansas, US, Ms Burnham visited Gardiner Angus Ranch (GAR) where the importance of employing a holistic approach to genetic optimisation for beef producers became clear. Every animal on their ranch is the result of Artificial Insemination (AI) or an Embryo Transfer (ET), currently performing around 2,500 ETs per year,” Ms Burnham said.


“Though GAR had pioneered the exclusive use of AI for all farm reproduction since 1964, it wasn’t until they implemented genetic analysis, like Australia’s BREEDPLAN, in 1980 that they saw genetic improvement. This allowed them to optimise selection on-farm, and then accelerate genetic gain through reproductive technologies. A well-established breeding enterprise, GAR now applies high selection pressure by harvesting eggs from genetically superior females, adding genotyping to the genetic analysis to ensure high selection accuracy, to multiply younger superior genetics with all breeders over four years of age sold to reduce the generation interval. These advancements in production have all been done with accurate measurement, genetic evaluation and by continually selecting using breeding values and selection Indexes to maximise business profits and ensure accurate genetic evaluation by utilising all the genetic selection tools.”


Ms Burnham said genetic selection is never based on one single attribute and the use of selection Indexes ensures balanced selection to improve accuracy and maximise productivity and profitability.


“Globally, I noticed commonalities in production enterprises when it came to genetic gain, these were: clearly defined long-term breeding objectives, excellent herd and grazing management, ongoing animal phenotypical measurement, genotyping, genetic evaluation, economic selection Indexes, and the combined use of all selection tools. With the significant challenges facing northern Australia’s beef industry, it’s imperative that seedstock producers consider emerging modern technologies that aid in measurement and enable more accurate selection for genetic gain and increased returns. As many of the genetic profit-driving traits are hard to measure and not visible to the eye, such as fertility, eating quality, feed efficiency, carcass yield and thermotolerance, the integration of modern technology for animal phenotypic and genotypic measurement will be central to collecting data in northern Australia required to improve genetic selection. This could involve implementing walk over weighing, birth alerts, and Smart Tags for example.


“Travelling to Jacarezinho, a 6,000 breeder Nelore operation in Brazil, the possible utilisation of facial and video recognition for animal trait collection was discussed, which shows great potential as a cheaper and more accurate alternative to tags. Video recognition research in Brazil is also trialling the measurement of animal structure in Nelore cattle, aiming to streamline the current subjective nature of assessment between humans for the Special Certificate of Identification and Production (CEIP) program, which attests to the genetic quality of an animal. If they can be cost-effectively implemented on farm, technologies like this will not only enhance measurement for improved genetic selection, but also help solve labour and expense challenges to increase measurement in northern Australian seedstock businesses.”


Ms Burnham said to optimise genetic evaluation and selection, industry needs to place consideration into combining all platforms – phenotype, pedigree and genotype – to produce a high breeding value.


“Continual physical measurement is critical for genomics and is currently being achieved through a number research projects and a small group of committed seedstock producers in northern Australia. In the past decade for example, we have seen how the uptake of genotyping to identify homozygous poll animals has increased the number of polled animals for sale in the north. Genomics now provides estimates of genetic potential on cattle with no prior measurement, offering a large opportunity for our northern beef sector.”


Ms Burnham said optimised selection will not only facilitate increased profitability and sustainability for the Australian beef industry but will also enhance consumer trust by proactively addressing environmental and welfare concerns.


“In New Zealand, I was able to visit Rissington Farms, where they have been able to genetically select their Savanna breed cattle for the slick gene which enhances heat resistance. Over 50 per cent of the world’s cattle population is maintained in hot environments. By selecting for heat tolerance, the beef industry is able to provide a viable and effective strategy to mitigate the negative effect of heat stress on beef production and possible climatic concerns. It is becoming increasingly important that the beef industry is proactive in demonstrating accountability and transparency as consumers play a greater role in decision-making around standards and expectations. Greater optimisation of genetic selection presents a significant opportunity for the beef industry to select cattle that not only survive but thrive in northern Australia’s conditions, and drive greater returns to the sector.”


Ms Burnham said that globally, seedstock protein producers in all livestock sectors are showing that the use of genetic economic selection Indexes can optimise genetic gain, address environmental and consumer requirements, and enhance profitability.


“To adapt to changing market conditions and challenges facing northern producers, it’s critical that modern technologies are considered to increase genetic measurement to optimise selection and enhance profits in the commercial beef industry,” she said.

Final Report Link

Final Video Link


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