A global quest to improve cattle reproduction

11 June 2015

Queensland cattle producer Kara Knudsen has just completed a world trip like no other - she has inspected cattle semen across the globe, with a highlight being a visit to Canada's Semex, where semen is taken from 500 bulls each day.

Kara, who breeds Santa Gertrudis cattle with her husband on their property 350 kilometres west of Bundaberg, was the recipient of the MLA supported Nuffield scholarship in 2013. Her study goal was to learn about the best in global reproductive technology.

"I was really looking at better and cheaper ways of accelerating genetic progression through reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination (AI) and embryo transfer, so trying to get the best genetics out that we have, cheaply and on a large scale,” she said.

“There’s no doubt that if we can improve genetics we can improve our bottom lines - the cost of genetics is sometimes quite expensive and most of industry is only using traditional methods, and not getting the best out of what we are already purchasing.

Different countries, similar environments

Kara said, with a more successful history of fixed-time AI in Bos Taurus cattle such as Angus, Hereford and other European breeds, it’s time to improve the techniques for the northern Bos Indicus breeds.

“I went in search of what people were doing in similar environments such as Argentina and Uruguay and found they were doing AI there on the breeds and also at the size and scale I wanted to look at," she said.

"In particular, I had my heart set on meeting Argentina-based Dr Gabriel Bo, a world leader in reproductive technology, particularly in tropically-adapted cattle, and Argentina does a lot of AI on their herds, so that was the main reason I wanted to go there.

"The second benefit was they certainly have a lot of the same climatic conditions and a tougher environment in the south and I also looked at sheep reproduction while I was there, which I found very enlightening for me going back into cattle."

Learning from dairy

However, it wasn’t just South America where Kara uncovered valuable information, with the Canadian dairy industry also proving to be a worthwhile visit.

“When I was in Guelph, Ontario, I met with people from the university there talking genetics and genomics and mapping genotype, and what I took away was that we’ve certainly got to go a lot further in Australia with those sorts of things," she said.

"I also went to Semex headquarters, where they have about 500 bulls and they are taking semen from them every day - they are extensively using genomics as well as AI, which has given them a huge lift in production."

Putting the learning into action

So where to from here for Kara and her beef enterprise now she’s back home from her Nuffield studies?

“I’ve already started trialling tactics like temporary weaning of cows during AI and I’ll probably be re-syncing my heifers this year to further reduce my calving period," she said.

"I looked at a lot of other things that we will probably incorporate in our business later on, such as value-adding, looking closer at our costs of production and how we can do things differently and whether or not there are other industries we can add or complement to our existing business."

Are you the next Nuffield?

Nuffield Australia provides opportunities to Australian primary producers and managers between the ages of 28 and 40 to travel the globe investigating a research topic important to them and Australian agriculture.

The organisation is currently taking applications through to 30 June 2015 for the 2016 scholarship program. A $30,000 bursary is provided to successful applicants to carry out their study over a two-year period.

More information

You can watch Kara presenting her findings at the Nuffield Australia National Conference in Launceston and follow her on Twitter @KnudsenKara or at www.knudsencattle.com 

Read an MLA Feedback case study on the Knudsen's fixed time AI program 

To keep up with the latest from Nuffield go to www.nuffield.com.au or on Twitter @nuffieldaust and #nuffieldag and on Nuffield Australia’s Facebook page.

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