Cattle breeder backs 'hard facts' production system
A North Canterbury cattle breeder has come up with a performance recording system he thinks is more practical for New Zealand conditions than a genetic programme used widely around the world.
Angus breeder Rick Orr said he relied on hard facts and less on estimates to gauge the performance of his bulls' ability to pass on the best traits for their calves and improve beef cattle herds.
Despite receiving "a bit of stick" for finding fault last year with the Australian-designed Breedplan programme, the stud owner of Red Oak Angus in Weka Pass has carried on with his own breeding index.
For sires the index is mainly based on growth weights and meat yields of their calves and focuses for dams on traits such as calf survival, fertility, early conception, milking and cow longevity.
He said cattle sires with top production traits calculated by estimated breeding values (EBVs) favoured cattle with United States or Australian bloodlines on feedlots or on flat farms. Most of the New Zealand cattle had moved onto hill country, yet the EBVs had not accommodated for the shift.
"It's easy to breed a cattle beast on paper, but if they have to go to the high country in New Zealand they might not genetically suit those conditions."
Offshore bloodlines needed to be proven in New Zealand conditions before being valued with more weighting placed on the performance of the progeny, he said.
"We are running high and low-figured cattle on the same environment in the same mob in our herd of old New Zealand bloodlines, but the low- figured cattle are often outperforming the others."
The stud breeder sold an angus bull last year for $23,000 which only had average EBVs and another bull of his made $10,000 yet it had "minus" EBV traits.
Over four years of monitoring the growth rates of 6000 steers and heifers on a formerly leased finishing block in Hanmer, Orr observed animals with some high EBV figures produce lower results than the progeny of New Zealand-bred cattle. Sometimes their growth rates were closer to 500 grams a day than the upper range of 2.5kg/day.
"The problem is the cattle don't perform as well as they should when we weigh and scan them in growth weights and carcass data.
"The actual performance of an animal's progeny has no bearing on its paperwork. All of these high figure cattle have come from the US or Australia and when people have crossed them from artificial insemination over here all of their progeny have high figures crossed over, but they often haven't performed to that level over other cattle during a 10-year period.
"Yet this is used as a marketing tool to sell these progeny, but are we letting the industry down if they don't perform to expectations?"
Orr's index, created with SIL consultant Ken Moore and run the last three years with historical data, is designed to produce a calf which is born early, weans at a high rate, has a dam which gets into calf each year, and has a high weaning weight ratio compared to the dam's liveweight.
Whether the calf is kept as a stud bull, or sold as a sale bull or culled is factored into the index and a record is kept of the heifers.
Orr said production gains for beef cattle were behind the national dairy herd or the performance of the national sheep flock under its performance recording and genetic evaluation system by Sheep Improvement Ltd (SIL). Cattle farmers needed a SIL-type system, he said.
"After 15 years of EBVs the beef animals are no bigger or better."
Orr said some of his bulls had benefited from better EBV figures as a result of a programme change from a 300 kilogram carcass to a 400kg carcass, but he still preferred a "hard facts" system.
Orr has bloodlines with the New Zealand-bred bull Pinebank 41-97 which had been in an Australian benchmarking programme with 30 to 40 bulls from around the world. Pinebank's trial results, particularly for feed efficiency and eye muscle area, led to its EBVs moving from a score of three to seven after its progeny had done well, and Orr's bulls have risen alongside them.
As a result Orr has spent $15,000 placing his bulls Waitawheta B-11 and Red Oak Zulu 285 in the Australian trial which has calves on the ground with results due over the next two years.
Orr said he placed the New Zealand-bred bulls in the trial to prove they would perform better than their EBVs indicated.
Orr runs a 300 angus stud cow herd, 400 commercial cows and 10,000 ewes at his Weka Pass property. He no longer finishes cattle on the leased Hanmer block.