24 January, 2013, Danielle Sisson
Northern cattle have a 20 per cent lower survival rate of their calves reaching weaning age than cattle bred in the south, due to harsher conditions, larger travelling distances and different parasites.
With Australia exporting more than two thirds of its beef to over 100 countries, and 50 per cent of that beef coming from Queensland, the low survival rate is a problem not only to the welfare for the animals, but the economy of the country.
The Australian beef cattle industry makes around $50 million dollars a year, and is the largest single agricultural business inAustralia.
An alliance was recently formed between government, industry and research organisations to try to improve on this problem and others that face the northern beef industry.
The Northern Beef Research Alliance was launched at Custom House inBrisbanein late 2012 by Premier Campbell Newman.
“That collaboration, the bringing together of some great research efforts I think will be just critically important for the future of the beef industry,” Premier Campbell says.
“There are many challenges that we need to face: reproduction, nutrition, health, welfare, husbandry and grazing land management.
“But forming this alliance, I’m very confident that these challenges will be met.”
CSIRO, the Queensland Government of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and theUniversityofQueenslandare the initial organisations creating the alliance.
Director of the Centre for Animal Studies from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), Professor Stephen Moore emphasises the importance of the research being affordable for farmers.
“What we’re aiming to deliver is cost-effective solutions to the industry,” he says.
“There’s a lot of nice technology out there that you can apply in more intensive animal agriculture profitably.
“So the focus we have is to address issues like reproduction but in a way that we can produce a product that industry can use and can afford.”
With Australia set to double its food production by 2040, new methods will be important in increasing the yield of all our primary production.
Research into the genetics of individual cattle can help determine how successful they could be at producing young in the future.
By determining a cow’s success at reproduction, farmers could decide whether to use a cow to breed or not before the cattle even get to reproductive age.
The more farmers push a higher survival rate in northern cattle by continually choosing the cattle with the healthiest and most surviving young to breed from, the more likely it is the calves from cattle in the north will survive.
However, improving the survival rate can occur even faster by combining farmers’ knowledge on choosing breeding cattle based on appearance with genetic information on the survivability of cattle.
Increasing access to this sort of genetic information is one way the new research alliance can hope to improve the output from the northern cattle industry.
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