Genetic Innovation in the Outback: the BreedNorth WA Project

In the expansive landscapes of the Kimberley and Pilbara regions in Western Australia (WA), the BreedNorth WA Project is unfolding. Under the oversight of the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), this state government-funded endeavour taps into the expertise of scientists from the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU) to elevate the genetic merit and profitability of beef breeding enterprises in Northern WA.

AGBU Scientists Matt Walcot and David Johnston out on a station visit in the West Kimberley

Over the past two years, the project team has embarked on visits to 35 commercial stations in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions, emphasising recurring engagements with key stations. The scope of the project was extended to stud breeders, with a focus on enhancing information available to bull buyers.

A significant milestone was achieved through the inclusion of a prominent WA-based Droughtmaster stud herd in the BREEDPLAN, backed by comprehensive historical phenotype and genotype data. This integration empowers pastoralists when buying bulls in the region to make informed decisions regarding genetic profitability. It also marks a pivotal advancement for the project, and for the beef industry in the region.

The project’s initial phase centred on information gathering and analyses to unravel the intricacies of production systems and market dynamics across the Kimberley and Pilbara regions. A standout achievement in the second year is the publication of two new selection indexes by the Australian Brahmans Breeders Association and Droughtmaster Australia.

These indexes, shaped by data collected from this project, have earned endorsement from AGBU as effective tools for pastoralists in the region making selection decisions among Brahmans and Droughtmasters breeds. Developing new selection indexes and refining existing ones to reflect the unique production systems and markets for beef cattle in the north of WA will continue to be a focus of the project as it moves into its second phase.

There will also be a greater focus on workshops, which will enhance pastoralists’ familiarity with BREEDPLAN and its application to commercial beef breeding, as well as their understanding of how the recently implemented indexes provide a basis for profit-based selection.

AGBU have recently joined forces with the BeefLinks program, collaborating with the University of Western Australia in organising and presenting at a series of regional workshops in 2024.

The workshops, titled ‘Breeding for Profit – What Cattle Buyers Want and How to Get There,’ will facilitate discussions with representatives of the beef supply chain who are sourcing cattle from northern WA, and with AGBU geneticists who will discuss how modern genetic tools can help breeders present the most saleable product to those buyers.

Cattle in the Pilbara.

These sessions will provide valuable insights into the priorities and traits that drive profitability in the cattle industry. Simultaneously, property visits will expand into the East Kimberley and Gascoyne regions, building relationships with producers in these areas.

For further information about the workshops please contact Fiona Dempster on fiona.dempster@uwa.edu.au.