The topic of efficient beef is one of hot discussion within the beef industry and is at the core of much research and development being undertaken in order to continue progression in the industry.

On November 25th, Angus Australia, in collaboration with the University of New England (UNE), Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), Vytelle and NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), hosted the Efficient Beef Field Day at the UNE Smart Farms Tullimba Research Feedlot.

The field day provided an opportunity for attendees to learn about the latest research developments from industry collaboration with informative presentations from representatives from Angus Australia, UNE, Vytelle and NSW DPI.

Presentations were followed by the opportunity to view Angus Sire Benchmarking Program Cohort 11 steers, Southern Multibreed Project steers, and feed intake and methane data recording equipment used at the
research facility.

About Tullimba

The Tullimba Research Feedlot was established by UNE in 1994 with the purpose to conduct feedlot research. Located 40 minutes from Armidale, the feedlot has capacity of 1000 head on 740 hectares. Conducting research into feed efficiency, meat quality, animal nutrition and performance and animal behaviour and welfare, the feedlot works with industry groups across various projects that furthers the research and development happening to produce sustainable and efficient beef.

“In half of the feedlot, we undertake a lot of feed management research with nutrition, also feed additives and animal health and welfare, and trying to optimise feedlot-based research. On the other half of the feedlot we focus on feed efficiency research, and it has been used to measure animals for Angus reference populations for genetic evaluation since 2010,” said Dr Sam Clarke, UNE.

Developing Research in Eating Quality

As part of the Efficient Beef Field Day, we were introduced to Andrew Lynn, a PHD student at UNE who through his studies looks at the genomic prediction of consumer satisfaction of Australian beef, which is done in a combined genetic and meat science project.

“Essentially in meat science we sit here feeding these cattle and at the end of the day, they’re going to be processed for the consumers. We need to be able to essentially evaluate how good that meat is based on how we treat it through its life, including their genetic background,” said Mr Lynn.

Highlighting that consumers want tender, juicy and consistent beef, the research conducted by Mr Lynn and others looks into testing eating quality in beef through various methods outside of consumer testing. In doing so, they are looking for genetic markers and DNA linkage that in turn develops a genomic prediction that will tell us the eating quality of meat produced by an animal.

Mr Lynn identifies that through this work, an eventual EBV for eating quality would be the desired outcome for producers, particularly those in the supply chain who are producing, slaughtering and then marketing their own beef.

“There’s no mechanical measurement and no way that you can gauge how good a piece of beef is going to eat satisfactorily just by taking a measurement. We have to have consumers do it. But the problem is, why don’t we do more consumer satisfaction testing? It’s expensive. First, we’ve got to buy the meat, then we’ve got to pay people to tell us how good it is,” said Mr Lynn.

“It gets expensive and it’s really hard to collect this data. So, we’ve got to start thinking about other ways we can collect this information. What about genomic prediction? If we can take the DNA and find genetic markers that tell us how good that piece of beef is without needing the mechanical measurements, without even having to kill the animal, we can take a calf that’s just dropped out of its mum, take a DNA sample and tell how good it’s going eat, given the right environment.”

Through this project, which incorporates Australia, the USA and Ireland, researchers are also looking to see if this information is then transferable across international data, and across beef breeds.

Angus across industry

The crowd was also addressed by Dr Kath Donoghue, a research scientist at NSW DPI, who spoke about the work being conducted through the Southern Multibreed Project, a five-year collaborative project being conducted by NSW DPI and UNE.

“The first project objective is to create a database of head-to-head comparisons from several different breeds and that would be potentially used to underpin a BREEDPLAN, temperate multibreed evaluation,” said Dr Donoghue.

“Secondly, and just as importantly, is to measure those difficult, high quality, hard to measure traits such as female fertility, feed efficiency, retail beef yield, immune competence and the list goes on. And finally, to create a large genomic research population from several different breeds, not only for this project, but for future use.”

The project is conducted across five different research stations, with Angus the only breed involved in the project being located across all five locations.

Of the approximate 4,800 calves that have been born as part of the project, just under 1,500 of those were Angus or Angus influenced.

Vytelle’s involvement in industry research

Andrew Donoghue, Vytelle Regional Manager Australia/New Zealand, shared Vytelle’s involvement with the research being conducted in the feedlot, following the companies merging with GrowSafe two years ago.
Following this, Vytelle now provide the GrowSafe devices used within the facility to measure feed intake data.

“As a company we’re looking to address what we call the triple challenge, addressing the need for increased demand for protein globally, doing it sustainably and being kind to the environment, but also making it economic for the producer,” said Mr Donoghue.

“The biggest constraints of this in the past has been slow genetic progress due to a lack of labour, limited data around all of this and unpredictable results, particularly with artificial breeding technologies.”

“So that’s where we come in and allow you to advance the right genetics faster. There are three elements to the business. Firstly, is basically the former GrowtSafe business, therefore phenotype data and capture for net feed intake and insights around breeding values for feed efficiency and efficiency traits. Now we combine that with advanced IVF services and basically generating more progeny from better animals.”

“The beef industry is a long way behind in efficiency, compared to other livestock species, and these tools allow people to start to make that change. Until we start to measure things, you can’t make changes. What trait are we looking at? Net feed intake is the one that drives feed efficiency, and it’s basically looking at the difference between an animal’s actual intake and their expected intake for a given body, size and growth rate. Are they eating more or less than what they should?”

“It’s a moderately heritable trait, it’s independent of body weight and size, and it’s not a trait that you can detect visually, you have to measure for it. The key driver for efficiency is net feed intake.”

“Why are we doing net feed intake? If you were just to focus on average daily gain and traits like feed conversion ratio by default drive daily gain rather than full efficiency, genetically if you looked at average daily gain, 10% improvement will give you an 18% improvement in profit. If you focus on net feed improvement and feed efficiency, 10% improvement will give you a 43% improvement in profit. So, it’s fairly important to make sure you’re using the right trait and select input.”

Low Methane Beef

Dr Tom Granleese, NSW DPI, gave an overview of the Low Methane Beef Project, a collaborative $15 million project led by University of New England (UNE), with Angus Australia being a key collaborator, along with the NSW Government and Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA).

The project aims to deliver decision making tools to identify cattle with genetic advantages for high productivity and low greenhouse gas impact. It will focus on compiling existing and creating new data on beef cattle methane emissions, measured specifically for genetic evaluation, with the aim to generate methane emission research breeding values.

With the project now underway, animals within the Angus Sire Benchmarking Program are now being recorded through machines that measure carbon dioxide, methane and hydrogen whilst the animal is situated in the machine. “We’re aiming to develop a pipeline for emission data and we’re forming a reference population. Eventually we want this data to create Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) so the breeders can start selecting for the lower emitters. And then obviously your clients, if you’re a seedstock producer, will then multiply out those lower emitting genetics.”

“Another really important question that we’re asking in this project is, is methane produced on pasture the same as methane produced in the feedlot?”

Ideally, within five years the project looks to have developed EBVs for use by producers to select animals based on genetic prediction of their methane emissions. From now, the project is working on building records on animals from both the Angus Sire Benchmarking Program and the Southern Multibreed Project.

“We’ve got 1200 existing records, from Angus animals from the first pilot project. Over the next four years we’re going to do 650 to 750 steers per year from the Multibreed Project here in the feedlot, and doing their sisters out in the paddock,” said Dr Granleese.

“We are then we’re doing around 400 Angus steers per year from the ASBP, collecting data on traits to measure the methane, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and daily feed intake.”

“There’s been some modelling done which shows, in 2019, if we we put a price on carbon, include it into an economic selection index, and used it in selection we can reduce methane output by 1% per year. Over 20 years, potentially we can reduce it down by 20%, which is pretty exciting.”

“If we just continue as we’re going what we’re doing is actually increasing methane output per beef livestock unit. If we start measuring and then selecting for methane, we’re not just maintaining, we’re able to reduce methane emissions. So, over the next 20 years we’re hoping to reduce carbon dioxide equivalents by about twelve megatons over that time period, remembering that genetic change is permanent, accumulative and long lasting.”

For more information on this project CLICK HERE

Updates on Angus Sire Benchmarking

A draw card for the Efficient Beef Field Day was the opportunity to view steers currently in the feedlot from Cohort 11 of the Angus Sire Benchmarking Program (ABSP). Furthermore, Angus Australia General Manager – Genetic Improvement Christian Duff gave an update on the program and current work being undertaken through collaboration within the industry, including the Low Methane Beef Project.

The objective of the ASBP is to grow the comprehensive phenotype and genotype reference population on contemporary Australian Angus animals particularly for hard-to-measure traits, for enhanced genetic evaluation, collaborative research and innovative development.

The collaborative research undertaken within the program is largely focused on using Angus Australia’s comprehensive phenotype, pedigree and genotype database, harnessing additional benefit from the collective investment of Angus Australia members.

Mr Duff shared the latest of the program, which has recently seen the selection of its Cohort 13 sires. Cohort 13 will see 27 new bulls enter the program, who be joined to approximately 1,800 Angus cows across collaborator herds using fixed time artificial insemination. Historically the program has inducted 550 bulls over 13 years.

Progeny will be phenotyped and genotyped and with the data attributed to the reference population feeding into the TransTasman Cattle Evaluation and continuing to enhance the genetic evaluation available to Angus producers.

Circling back to the topic of the event, Mr Duff also highlighted the work being done in the ASBP on feed efficiency.

“Efficiency is achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted resource, effort or expense. So how has the ASBP contributed to beef efficiency and to our efficiency of our members?” said Mr Duff.

“I would argue the ASBP is positively contributing to Beef Efficiency in several ways. Some are more apparent and applicable now and some probably more for the future. The first one is just around productivity. Through the accuracy of selection, our producers have been able to be more productive through their genetic selection. More calves, more weight, more yield, more quality.”

“Product intensity is probably another thing. An Angus today has more genetic potential and value compared to an Angus 30 years ago. If you just look at an animal or bull of a similar age for example, we expect more productivity out of today’s Angus through genetic selection and the ASBP has contributed to part of that. As it stands at the moment, we have over 10,000 animals with feed intake recorded, with half of those with genotypes as well, which feeds into our genetic evaluation.”

For more information on the ASBP CLICK HERE.

Cheyne Twist, Senior Marketing & Communications Officer