Some people feel estimated breeding values (EBVs) from a genetic evaluation system like SIL or Breedplan are an unnecessary complication, and prefer visual selection. I have to say they become a whole lot less ‘complicated’ when they’re helping you finish cattle at 18 months versus 30 months. On a property of this scale this is equivalent to an extra $900,000 of gross margin per year.
This gain obviously isn’t just down to better genetic selection alone - we are also feeding our animals better to express very specific forms of genetic potential. Our EBV criteria are for fertility, 400 and 600 day growth rates, eye muscle area, rib and rump fats and intramuscular fat.
Our selection process starts with the online bull selector programme on the New Zealand Angus Association website, specifying the EBV ranges for target traits. We then narrow the search to about 40 bulls, which normally are from 5-6 studs, and target to purchase our bulls from these animals. These bulls still need to pass the visual assessment and have the right phenotype, structure etc.
EBVs are not necessarily for all farmers – especially those who are happy with their animals’ performance. But how often do you find a farmer who is? I’m also conscious that while most sheep breeders are strongly committed to SIL, the beef industry still puts a lot of its faith in visual assessment - fleshing, structure and jawlines. To be honest, in this day and age that is almost medieval. I am afraid New Zealand is lagging behind the USA and Australia when it comes to understanding and utilising beef genetics. The genomic tools that are used in these countries could radically change our industry in New Zealand.
Whangara is part of B+LNZ Genetics Beef Progeny Test, involving 2200 cows and heifers across the five properties – 375 cows on Whangara - to determine how bulls of different types perform under comparable commercial conditions.
The three main goals are to put dollars against the cost/benefit of investing in quality genetics, to demonstrate the value of genetic technologies to New Zealand farming and to contribute data for the development of new tools and measurements.