BreedNorth WA Project

The BreedNorth WA project is well underway in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of Western Australia. It is a WA state government funded initiative, with oversight from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD). DPIRD has invested to make the expertise of scientists from the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU) accessible to commercial beef breeders in the region. The project’s goal is to improve genetic merit for key, economically important traits and ultimately, the profitability of beef breeding enterprises in the region.

To achieve this, AGBU scientists are working with commercial beef breeders in the Kimberley and Pilbara, and with stud breeders and their representative bodies, to improve the understanding and application of modern genetic evaluation tools.

Kicking off in 2022, the project achieved significant progress as AGBU scientists worked alongside northern producers. The initial focus was to gather information and conduct analysis to establish a foundational understanding of production systems and market dynamics prevalent in beef breeding enterprises across the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of Western Australia.

Key project outcomes

1.       Development of selection indexes to describe genetic profitability for the Kimberley and Pilbara regions.

2.       The application of strategic genotyping to characterise current genetics in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions and to evaluate this information as a selection tool.

3.       Increase the understanding and application of BREEDPLAN EBVs and selection indexes in northern WA’s beef breeding industry.

Improving understanding of the basic principles and application of genetic evaluation for WA’s northern beef breeders is being achieved by a program of property visits and one-on-one discussions with local producers. Additional insight has been sought via interactions with feeder animal buyers and seedstock breeders influencing the genetics of commercial beef cattle in the region. This information laid the groundwork for preliminary BREEDPLAN custom selection indexes, tailored to the unique production systems and target markets of northern WA beef breeders, particularly focusing on pure-bred Brahman steers for live export and Droughtmaster sired steers for backgrounding and feedlot finishing. Both of these assume a self-replacing production system, and results have highlighted the critical importance of reproductive performance and early growth to genetic profitability in the region. These new indexes serve as a foundation for future expansion to include other breeds and markets.

The latter half of 2022 and 2023 aimed to introduce the project to a broader audience, beyond the on-going program of property visits. One very positive outcome was the identification of ‘better adoption of genetic research’ as a top priority during a poll conducted at the 2022 Tom Price BeefUp forum. The project has also presented material to a number of breeder groups in the region (The Gascoyne Catchment group, The Southern Rangelands Pastoral Alliance, Brahman, Droughtmaster and Santa Gertrudis bull buyers and their respective breeders associations) as well as at the Kununurra and Broome BeefUp forums. A key objective of the project has also been to up-skill WA DPIRD Beef Development Officers in the region, and this has been achieved via a series of five webinar presentations to this group in late 2022 and early 2023.

Image 2. Scenery from the AGBU station road trip of a typical Pilbara outcrop

In the coming 12 months, the project will focus on delivering and refining custom selection indexes for Kimberley and Pilbara beef producers, accompanied by workshops introducing breeders to these indexes and equipping them with the knowledge to effectively utilize modern genetic evaluation tools. The project will continue its property visits, with an emphasis on expanding into the East Kimberley and Gascoyne regions. Additionally, the project will priorities interactions with service providers, including stock agents, large animal veterinarians and artificial breeding companies to help them understand the new tools developed for northern WA’s beef breeders.

There is also a push to extend the project beyond its initial timeline (wrapping up at the end of 2024) to insure that AGBU expertise is available to breeders in the region as they take on the long term challenges associated with making real improvements to genetic profitability in uniquely extensive and challenging production systems.

This project is funded by the WA state government, with oversight from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD).