Saturday, March 28, 2009

Adaptation - The Key…

My friendship and respect for Pat Francis goes back decades, as the most reliable and incisive publisher of useful and progressive information in the Australian agricultural press.His personal touch has built AFJ to be the ‘best there is’. Pat Francis and Alan Nation, editor of Stockman Grassfarmer (USA) are a rare and valuable breed in global agriculture. I hope you all acquaint yourselves with their publications, if you do not already read them…  Some parts of that article appear here.   

Reproduction speed. These are the two most important words to beef breeding operations across northern Australia and the tropical beef regions of the world; or at least they should be. They should also be considered as the measure of an animal’s quality, or ‘fitness for function’ and degree of adapted genetics. ‘Fitness for function’ equals quality. Our aim has only gained in intensity. That is to develop genetics for the most commercially based adapted and low cost beef businesses in Northern Australia and the tropical grazing regions of the world.  I am convinced that profit margin in a beef breeding business is driven by females’ reproductive speed, contributing $7 per $10 gross margin; compared to growth at $2 and other factors such as environmental and market conditions at just $1….Think about it, this is every year!!  Gross margin per 1000 cows will be influenced by how early in the season a cow rebreeds, and by what percentage of the total cattle herd is actively ruminating by the onset of a greenfeed season.  Profit will be determined by costs and speed of production per hectare and per unit of rainfall. True adaptation has a huge role in this profit. I am also convinced that true adaptation is determined by a herds ability to deliver a weaner for every cow retained, well before the dry season regardless of seasonal conditions, as well as an early rebreed.  Basically, true adaptation means fitness for function. Australian Brahmans are the most adapted of all breeds in Australia, and there is still plenty of work to do on them too.

For the past three decades the CBV group has been applying a stringent set of commercial production criteria to their stud herd, resulting in an efficient herd that has the ability to perform in a range of challenging environments. The CBV herd is the culmination of decades of genetic gain driven by our family’s lifelong passion for turning science into commercial reality.

The pinnacle of success for CBV is identifying and applying those factors which have a significant effect on the cost of production per kilogram, per hectare and return on dollar invested. This is quickly defined as adaptation, reproduction and timing, with metabolic rate and resistance being key factors in adaptation.  These factors are interrelated, interdependant and in my mind very achievable. These traits have a big impact on cost of production, risk management and profit.  Comprehensive data recording within the CBV herd has helped us achieve our objectives, forming the basis for selection decisions and strategic business direction.

Experience with, and the use of a broad range of genotypes, including Adaptaur, Afrikander, Angus, Belmont Red, Brahman, Boran, Charolais, Galloway, Hereford, Limousin, Shorthorn, Simmental, and Tuli has resulted in the developing of the composite herd at CBV, adjunct to the CBV Brahman herd.  Comprising approximately 12 to16 percent of the stud herd, the composite cattle provide a basis for comparison and analysis for productive performance while subjected to the same environmental and climatic stressors as the CBV Brahman herd.  The effect of environmental stressors on a wholeherd basis has been extremely interesting..

At our level of cost control and stocking rates very few females of the halfblood Bos taurus lines survived and some of these breeds disappeared almost without trace.  Subsequently lifting to 75 percent Bos indicus content elevated survival and reproduction dramatically. The CBV composite herd is still ‘a work in progress’ of over 20 years, and is now proving competent in our environment.  The composites now generate their own replacement females, whereas in the formative years our Brahman herd propped them up by  contributing replacement females just to maintain numbers.

Too many of the F1 females were not adapted enough to reproduce in our system, and heterosis alone did not deliver.  Certainly far too many producers undertaking crossbreeding programs underestimate the effect of cumulative stressors on heterosis and the businesses bottom line. I refer to such stressors as internal and external parasites, temperature extremes, humidity, lactation, seasonal variations, pasture digestibility, protein levels, mineral deficiencies, distance to water, and terrain.  Too easily we can see the potential gains of heterosis washed away by just two or three poor seasons in any ten years, or five to ten dry months in a year; or  washed away by the cumulative effect of factors that on their own would be of small significance.  Understanding the factors driving profit is paramount, as is the ‘no excuses’ expectation that every female in the herd must deliver a weaned calf and pregnancy every year, early in the breeding schedule. I believe that without both tight management and rigorous sire selection, genetic gain is unattainable. This year’s pregnancytest rates illustrate the cumulative benefit of good seasons, management and genetics with the CBV herd averaging 90 percent across the four properties right on  schedule.

Management is paramount in the CBV operation – without exception, our objectively selected bulls are mated on October 1 and are retrieved on February 21. The best cattle are born in August, September, and October, and the last calves are weaned in March.

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