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Optimizing temperate cow herd efficiency - a Trans-Tasman collaboration

Project start date: 01 July 2016
Project end date: 06 January 2020
Publication date: 20 November 2020
Livestock species: Grass-fed Cattle
Relevant regions: National
Download Report (7.7 MB)


This project sought to leverage investment in phenotyping and genotyping undertaken on behalf of New Zealand beef breeders, to enable research which generated and investigated data from Australian temperate beef breeding herds.

This will help improve our understanding of factors influencing cow productivity in both countries and the Trans-Tasman genetic evaluation for these traits. To achieve this, research and development across a number of rather disparate areas has been supported by this project.


The project's goal is to help bull breeders and commercial cattle producers to improve cow maternal efficiency at the same time as producing high value carcases.

Resources developed will include two inter-linked extensive projects being undertaken by Beef and Lamb New Zealand Genetics (BLG) and adding complementary data to existing Australian projects (Angus and Hereford Beef Information Nucleus herds, Hereford Black Baldy project and appropriate seedstock herds).

The combined dataset will be used to:

  • define the value of recording early life fertility traits in beef cattle and potentially introduce new EBVs for early life fertility traits
  • describe the economics of contrasting approaches to breeding herd management and production systems across a range of production and market environments
  • determine the implications for breeding trait emphasis and cow type definition, including optimising balance between maternal and carcase quality traits.

Key findings

Data collected on heifers post-weaning was shown to be useful in estimating genetic merit for fertility and it is recommended that early fertility and female body composition traits be included in BREEDPLAN.

The commercial phenotypes collected for this project had real limitations when considered for inclusion in an established genetic evaluation with requirements around data quality.

The conclusion that including the data was likely to result in the estimation of breeding values with extremely limited value as descriptors of actual genetic merit was not arrived at lightly. It was, however, the only reasonable position given the lack of capacity to partition variances, calculated based on these data, to systematic (environmental) and genetic sources.

The program involved strong Trans-Tasman collaboration, which will be useful in future genetics R&D for temperate beef cattle.

Benefits to industry

Project outcomes will improve the application of BREEDPLAN for temperate beef production with new estimated breeding values (EBVs), such as Heifer Weaning Rate, Age at Puberty or cow Body Condition Score, along with enhanced $ Indexes in BREEDOBJECT. 

The result will be faster genetic progress towards a more accurately defined breeding goal(s). The results will also assist breeders and producers to respond to changing climate and enhance their ability to optimise management strategies, including stocking rate and supplementation requirements.

MLA action

To further enhance adoption, clear agreed and consistent messages around maternal efficiency based on scientific evidence will be developed and these messages will be packaged into formats appropriate for commercial cattle producers and bull breeders.

Future research

Future research opportunities include:

  • introducing body condition score (BCS) EBV in BREEDPLAN
  • introducing height EBV into BREEDPLAN
  • changing presentation of DTC in BREEDPLAN
  • exploring the economics of BCS modelling
  • match mating outcomes to heifer puberty - this will require data collection on naturally mated heifers.

More information

Contact email:
Primary researcher: Beef + Lamb NZ Genetics