South Otago farmer Lyndon McNab’s family has been recording data from their cattle herd for at least 50 years – and now he’s looking forward to putting that practice to even better use through the Informing New Zealand Beef (INZB) programme.
Lyndon and wife Jade are the third generation of the McNab family to farm the 3,200ha Lochindorb Farm near Owaka. Lyndon is among a group of commercial beef farmers selected for INZB’s Next Generation herds initiative.
The seven-year INZB partnership, supported by Beef + Lamb New Zealand, the Ministry for Primary Industries and the New Zealand Meat Board, aims to boost the sector’s profits by $460m over the next 25 years.
It is focused on increasing the uptake of genetics in the beef industry. The four main components are building a genetic evaluation and data infrastructure, progeny test herds, developing breeding objectives and indexes and developing new data sources.
Commercial farms are an important part of the programme, as they will provide increased linkages throughout the beef industry and contribute to genetic evaluations through recording data and incorporation of data into breeding value prediction. Ultimately this will increase the accuracy with which breeding values, or genetic merit, can be estimated.
The McNab family farm 6,000 Perendale ewes and 700 beef cows on a mixture of hill country and flat. They have Hereford, Angus and a mixed Stabiliser maternal herd. They also sell 70–80 Hereford and 40-50 Angus bulls each year and lease some yearlings, depending on demand.
“I have always been one to pay attention to the genetics of animals I am shopping for,” says Lyndon.
“But that is always superseded by physical confirmation and physical appearance. This study may possibly change that. I am curious to see the relationship between genotype and phenotype in my own cattle because I usually go with saying ‘that is a nice looking animal’ but I don’t have the genotype information for what is causing that.”
Lyndon buys Hereford genetics from Haldon Station in the Mackenzie Country, which played a key role in the Genepool programme, developed in 1971 as a way of sourcing top quality proven Hereford bulls for commercial use. The top cows from the initial 15 members were selected to run together at the 22,000ha station, to test how they would cope in challenging summer and winter conditions, and they thrived.
“My grandfather was one of the founding members of Genepool and while it was eventually dissolved, Haldon continued with the herd,” says Lyndon.
“The station manager is Paddy Boyd and his daughter Anna Boyd (Genetics Operations Specialist for Beef + Lamb New Zealand) is usually at their sales. We got chatting and Anna convinced me to take part.”
Lyndon says the study is important to enable the New Zealand beef sector to create points of difference around quality and sustainable production.
“We need that, because on a global scale we are a tiny producer of beef. We don’t have the ability to compete on volume and we are losing our ability to compete on price point. I think we are well placed to have a point of difference with socially and ethically-focused consumers.”
Lyndon says the New Zealand cattle industry is moving forward but believes the study could highlight areas where there is room for further improvement.
“It will be important to know that what the stud guys are putting out is working on commercial farms to the best of its ability. We see the figures when we buy, which are generated through the parentage and the 18-months or so they have spent on the farm they are bred on. But after that it is anecdotal, there isn’t concrete data on their performance once they are in a commercial herd.
“The stud environment is a bit different to a commercial farm. It benefits studs to monitor cattle more closely. It’s a bit different on most sheep and beef farms where cattle are largely left to themselves. I’m keen to see how the figures translate to commercial performance – which is one of the goals of the study.”
The INZB programme aims to onboard 10 commercial farmers with a passion for genetics each year – the farmers are selected according to the programme’s guidelines. Those selected adopt a recording schedule across the year and can also, if they wish, carry out genotyping of their cow herd and, on an annual basis, calves and sires.
Participation includes accurate pedigree recording, assessing their bull team’s performance, ensuring accurate information for heifer replacement selection and working with their bull breeders to make more rapid genetic progress. They can also benchmark their herd against others involved in the programme.
“It’s going to be pretty straightforward for us,” says Lyndon. “As we have the bull breeding too, we have been recording data of Hereford and Angus dams for 50 years. So, we just have to genotype and find the sires. Apart from the initial ear-punching of 400 cattle to get the genetic make-up, we are already gathering most of the information needed – and the study will simply be putting it to better use.”