Beef needs to learn from sheep says Trompf

Commercial beef breeders could learn a lot from the sheep industry says Dr Jason Trompf


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STRAIGHT TALKER: Bred Well Fed Well consultant Dr Jason Trompf spoke forcefully about the need to change the way beef cattle are bred at the East Gippsland Beef Conference.

STRAIGHT TALKER: Bred Well Fed Well consultant Dr Jason Trompf spoke forcefully about the need to change the way beef cattle are bred at the East Gippsland Beef Conference.

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Beef breeders could learn a lot from the sheep industry, Dr Jason Trompf told the East Gippsland Beef Conference this week.

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Dr Jason Trompf was not pulling any punches at the East Gippsland Beef Conference in Bairnsdale this week.

"The bull you buy today has how many years' impact on your herd? Twenty-plus years," Dr Trompf said.

"Yet we have an industry treating this with complete contempt.

"We're spending two hours - that's what the market research says - two hours on a 20-year decision.

"And then we get people ringing up saying, 'I'm pulling calves out of these bulls, mate, over my heifers'.

"And you know what the breeders should say?: 'Get off your arse, know your breeding objectives and make sure you select the right bulls in the first place'.

"Stop shedding blame."

Dr Trompf, who runs the Bred Well Fed Well workshops supported by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), said commercial beef breeders had to upskill rapidly.

"What Matias Suarez's research from DPI New South Wales tells us is that 70 per cent of the value of bulls on the day of the sale is driven by the weights of the bull on the day of the sale," he said.

"They overfeed them for sales because you keep paying for the fat ones.

"We must move forward as an industry and stop presenting body weights of bulls at sales because it's not telling you anything informative."

Instead, farmers should study breeding values before attending sales to check the conformation of bulls, Dr Trompf said.

"For moderately heritable traits like the raw data they're giving you - growth, muscle and fat - look at the EBVs (Estimated Breeding Values)," he said.

"You've still got to assess the bull structurally visually to make sure he's right for you but do your homework before you get there because the bull that will be the heaviest on raw data could be one of the lowest for growth genetically."

Surveys showed that only 6pc of commercial beef breeders used the Breedplan genetic evaluation system for beef cattle, while more than half of commercial sheep breeders used Lambplan.

"Why the tenfold difference?" Dr Trompf said.

"Without rocking the boat too much, one of the reasons is there's a fundamental difference with what we did in sheep.

"Ten years ago, we completely changed the emphasis and we said, 'We're going to coach commercial breeders to make more informed decisions.'.

"'We're going to stop trying to push it out through seed stock producers and through breed societies.

"'And we're going to take hold of the commercial industry and coach them along the line'.

"Whereas in the beef world, it's left to people like ABRI, AGBU and breed societies to extend the information and their primary customer is the bull breeder.

"Whereas I care about you, I want you to make an informed decision and use these tools.

"MLA, because of this market research, are also changing their focus on coaching you to make better decisions."

Beef producers were also at a disadvantage to sheep graziers because the profit potential of a bull was less easily measured by eye than that of a ram carrying an impressive fleece.

"In beef, there's a huge list of traits that are moderately heritable," Dr Trompf said.

"You don't have traits like the wool cut and micron that you can stand back and see because they're mounted on the outside of the animal and they're highly heritable.

"Eighty or 90pc of the profit from beef is under the skin.

"I want you to be clear about that.

"You're being told you're a good cow person if you can see profit and you can pick it.

"I absolutely call bullshit to that because how do you actually see which is the best doing animal if they've all had different opportunities, even if they've been in the one paddock all their life?

"The one that's 50 or 60 days ahead and had the better uterine environment and a higher milk-producing mum, he's going to look better, so we have to correct for that environment and that opportunity. "

Dr Trompf said commercial beef breeders must select bulls that were "farm fit and market fit" rather than focusing on a single trait.

"The issue we have with the way genetics in our industry are being sold is that they're sold as a tool to drive production: 'I want more growth rates, son, just give me more of that because that gives me more kilos.'," he said.

"People say we're paid on growth rates so that has to be number one.

"I call bullshit to them.

"It's part of your profit equation: how many females you run, how many calves they produce and then how quick they grow.

"It has to be optimized and balanced.

"Extreme growth rates aren't necessarily the pathway to profit in this equation.

"In fact, they could cause more wastage in certain areas."

That wastage, he said, might come in the form of stock losses as a result of calving trouble.

Dr Trompf also suggested that, although growth rates were important, it was more valuable to consider 400 than 600-day weights.

There were also opportunities for breeders prepared to look at unconventional crosses.

"Crossbreeding is one of the free lunches in beef farming that's being left on the shelf," Dr Trompf said.

"In the sheep world, we'll go and grab genes that we want to drive progress.

"In the beef world, we still seem to be obsessed about what colour they are, what breed you're aligned with."

The take-home message was that breeding demands a multi-faceted approach.

"If you want an animal that's fit for farm you'll need to put emphasis on things like working on reproduction, minimizing dystocia issues because that costs you in labour, cost you in rebreed time," Dr Trompf said.

"The animals have got to have appropriate maintenance costs.

"Once you've picked the farm and the market needs, select better bulls and use your joining pressure to put the acid on your herd so that you're keeping females that have that fertility and can take the next step with your operation."

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