Angus HeiferSELECT – valuable insight for herd management

At ‘Guy Fawkes’ station, Ebor in the New England of New South Wales the use of Angus HeiferSELECT was introduced as a way of gathering accurate sire identification as well as supplying predictive data that could be used to decide which heifers would be kept to breed from.

Fraser and Pam James have now been using Angus HeiferSELECT at ‘Guy Fawkes’ for three years, with the 2019 born ‘Q heifers’ first tested in 2020. More recently the James’s have just begun sampling the 2021 born ‘S Heifers’ as they have been coming through the yards for their booster shots post weaning.

‘We’ll sample most of our weaner heifers each year, but we will leave out any that have any obvious structural issues and I will sample smaller lighter heifers as long as they have the frame, as they may simply have been later born calves and I’m confident that most will grow out well over winter with our program to develop them,’ said Mr James.

Mr James started to investigate Angus HeiferSELECT following the products release at the end of 2017.

‘I began talking to Lachie Ayoub at Zoetis about it when the first media articles started appearing and it took me the best part of two years to get my head around it’.

I had many conversations with Lachie in that time and read as much as I could about genomics and we finally pulled the trigger in 2020, following a fairly busy 2019 while there were drought and fires to contend with.’

When asked what he hoped to achieve using Angus HeiferSELECT and his reasons for implementing the use of the product, Mr James highlighted efficiencies of management and selection as key factors.

‘Simply weighing heifers and drafting off the ones I liked wasn’t going to produce cows and ultimately steers that marbled, had big EMA, were efficient etc.’

‘We could select heifers that were structurally acceptable but the only way to keep pushing the traits I wanted was to keep using bulls that displayed those progeny traits, but I didn’t have any way of identifying the females that were holding us back.

The drive to receive more data to help make more accurate breeding decisions was also a driving force behind the implementation of Angus HeiferSELECT.

‘We don’t progeny test, I don’t have any interest in spending two months a year looking for newborn calves to tag and weigh etc. and even if we did start traditional progeny testing it would take us years to start getting accurate data.’

And while Mr James sees the current accuracy of Angus HeiferSELECT as a limitation, he believes that because the research has been done and will continue that overall accuracy will continue to improve.

‘We know that genomics works and has predictive ability, the levels differ with the various traits but as long as the R&D keeps going then the technology will continue to improve.’

The use of Angus HeiferSELECT is a long-term commitment at ‘Guy Fawkes’, with Mr James highlighting that he is only three years in and until he is further down the track, he won’t know the impact the product is having for his herd.

‘We’ve committed to the program as long as the R&D continues by Angus Australia and its partners and as long as the data continues to support the program.’

‘This is new technology, it isn’t traditional progeny testing and collection of EBVs, and I’ve listened to the critics who think I’d be better off running a traditional progeny test program, but I don’t have the time, resources or inclination to start that now and it would be a slow process to collect data of any accuracy.’

‘Angus HeiferSELECT gives me sire identification, that is valuable to me, and it also gives me predictive data on several traits, none of which I had before, so I’m prepared to back the science and use it.’

Mr James highlighted that he is just trying to do lots of small things really well.

‘Animal health, grazing management, breeding manage-ment etc. and if I continue to do that and focus on bulls that are going to drive me in the direction I want to go and over lay that with some technology that helps me eliminate the underperforming females then I think it will all turn out fine in the long run.’

‘I enjoy breeding commercial cattle, our steers are performing in the feedlot and our surplus heifers sell well, I’m proud of the cows I have in the paddock.’

With Angus HeiferSELECT providing a maternal, feedlot and overall breeder score out of 100, Mr James is able to use this information when making his decisions.

The two years of results that Mr James has received from Angus HeiferSELECT has shown him that he has got a decent cow herd.

‘I’d be shocked if that wasn’t the case given the effort, we’ve put in on the breeding side.’

‘Our total scores range from 15 to 96, averaging around 55 out of 100 for Total Breeder Value. Obviously, a Total Breeder score of 96 out of 100 sounds great but I’m under no illusion that I’ve bred a near perfect animal.’

‘We’ve basically selected on overall scores, above 65 total score and a female stays unless she has a low score for something like marbling or EMA which is crucial for us.’

In time Mr James believes that he will learn to analyse the data a lot better and would like to see Angus Australia further educate producers better on the various ways use the data produced for Angus HeiferSELECT.

Mr James sees Angus HeiferSELECT as the ideal product for any commercial producer that wants more tools at their disposal when it comes to commercial heifer selection.

‘The sampling is very quick to do and basically idiot proof as long as you follow the instructions. All of your data is maintained by Angus Australia and available via the database along with lots of reports and analysis.’

With an eye on further evolvement in genomic technology for commercial producers, Mr James has been following the development of Angus SteerSELECT as a tool to use down the track.

‘It has been really interesting, the data shows that it is accurate in predicting feedlot performance.’

‘If commercial feedlot trials back that up then that opens up a whole gambit of new opportunities for both producers and feedlots. Potentially you’ll have a cheap test that can be done on your steers prior to going to the feedlot, that will give the feedlot information on what program (Short or long fed) that they’ll suit and producers should be rewarded for steers that perform.’

‘I can see potentially other tangents as well. Steers that perform in the feedlot, grow quickly and have good feed efficiency should have a lower carbon footprint so having a predictive tool to select those steers is valuable.’

Angus forms the cornerstone at “Guy Fawkes Station”

Fraser and Pam James have owned ‘Guy Fawkes Station’ since 2004, with their commercial Angus operation due to calve down 700 females this year, with approximately 520 cows and 180 heifers.

The 960 ha property located at Ebor, 85km East of Armidale on the Eastern Fall of the New England Tablelands is acidic basalt soils with a 1200mm average annual rainfall mainly spring and summer dominant.

Improved pastures consisting of different blends of cocksfoot, fescues, bromes, plaintain and chickory, red, white, and sub clovers.

In terms of management, the property is divided into seventy four paddocks for cell grazing.

Cows are set stocked for three months from August through October for calving and then the cows and calves start rotational grazing post calf marking.

All steers and heifers continue on a grazing rotation from then on until they are sold.

At ‘Guy Fawkes’ cows are joined in multi sire matings in mobs of around 100 for 8 weeks in spring to start calving in August.

This year will see the James’s join 280-300 heifers go through a single dose Fixed Time AI program at the start of October with back up bulls introduced 10 days later for 6 weeks.

‘The AI heifers calve over 15 days starting in early July,’ said Mr James. ‘I really focus on developing my weaner heifers over the winter so that I have as many as possible up to at least 300kg and ideally 340kg + by AI time.’

‘They get the freshly sown paddocks to graze and I’ll supplement them if necessary to get them in shape to join.’

When it comes to setting their breeding objectives, balance is number one for the James’s.

‘An animal that is structurally correct, the steers need the frame and leg to stand for 270 days in a feedlot, marbling and EMA is very important for that market, as is feed conversion efficiency.’

‘Growth is important but I don’t want to produce elephants because big cows are high cost maintenance.’

‘For the females, fertility is obviously paramount, the heifers need to calve down unassisted, raise that calf
and reconceive.’

‘We pregnancy test post weaning and anything empty or that has structural issues is culled.’

When selecting bulls to meet their breeding objectives, balance again plays a large role, with Mr James stating that he looks for, ’Curve benders whose progeny calve easily and grow quickly and then stop growing, that marble, have big EMA and good feed conversion efficiency.’

‘I’m producing feedlot steers for the long fed market so that’s the focus when choosing a bull but you’ve got to produce good cows to get those steers so balance is key.’

‘We’re targeting the high marbling feedlot market for our steers and Rangers Valley take all our steers at around 500kg and we have a great relationship with them.’
‘The majority of our surplus heifers are sold PTIC with the marbling genetics suiting both Angus and F1 producers.’

‘When seasons permit like the last couple of years we’ll also buy in steers to grow out for the feedlot market. We’re very lucky to be on good country in a pretty safe rainfall area.’

‘A lot of people would say Ebor is too good for cows but I like breeding cattle and this is we’re we are. I have no interest in buying breeding country further West and then spending half my week in a vehicle.’

By Diana Wood, Marketing & Communications Manager