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Back to Research & Development

Selecting livestock for markets

Once producers understand the requirements and specifications of the target market, they can take steps to help ensure that the livestock they produce meet these specifications.

Livestock selection

One of the key steps is livestock selection, which aims to maximise the potential of livestock to meet market specifications through selecting for positive traits and culling for negative traits. Positive traits are those characteristics of an animal, such as breed, muscle score and weight that are desired by the target market. Negative traits are those characteristics of an animal that are not desired by the target market or affect the ability of the producer to meet market specifications, such as a slow growth rates.

Producers must first decide on the breed that will best suit their conditions and fit within their business plan. The potential of any animal is defined by its genetic make-up, which then interacts with environmental factors, such as nutrition, to determine the extent to which the potential is realised. While an animal's specific genetic make-up is unique to that animal, many important production traits are shared within a breed. Consequently, the common genetic characteristics of a breed can influence the suitability of that breed for a particular market.

Once breed and target market are identified, producers can then select high performing animals within the chosen breed that demonstrate specific traits that suit their breeding objective, for example high growth rates.

Using estimated breeding values

The difficult task of selecting breeding stock has been made easier and more precise through Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for cattle and goats and Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) for sheep. Breeding values are calculated using information from each animal's own performance and from the performance of its relatives. This information can help select and breed livestock that will achieve performance targets and improve profitability.

Culling and classing

Producers can also visually assess or class stock and cull where necessary in order to more closely align stock with market specifications. This may occur prior to selling or prior to breeding. Regardless of when classing occurs, target market specifications should play a major role in the process.

Producers can maximise their productivity and profitability by understanding the market they intend to supply and by honing their day-to-day management activities to supply that market. This is preferable to leaving it to chance by producing a product and then thinking about a market when it is time to off-load.

Good business management and record keeping will help producers track their progress over time. As livestock align more closely to appropriate target market specifications, producers will be able to see the profitability of their enterprise increasing.