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Accelerating genetic gain for productivity and profitability in Northern beef cattle with genomic technologies Final Report

Cow fertility is a key driver of profitability in northern Australian beef enterprises. While substantial genetic variation exists for this trait, it is a difficult trait to select for.

Project start date: 31 March 2017
Project end date: 26 January 2022
Publication date: 15 August 2022
Project status: Completed
Livestock species: Grass-fed Cattle
Relevant regions: National
Download Report (1.3 MB)


This project has produced two products that will enable northern Australian beef enterprises to improve fertility of their cows: Genomic breeding values (GBV) from the project have useful accuracy for selecting teams of bulls, or for culling heifers that are unlikely to perform, across a wide range of breeds, crossbreds and composites. GBV traits included heifer puberty, pregnant four months after calving, weight, body condition score, temperament, tick resistance and buffalo fly lesion score. The GBV for a herd can also be summarised into a herd profile, that benchmarks the herd and can be used as a tool to identify which traits should be the focus in bull selection decisions.


1. Develop methodology for calculating accurate genomic breeding value for key traits affecting productivity in Northern Beef cattle.
2. Develop a low cost SNP array including:
i. SNP that improve accuracy of genomic breeding values for breeds and composites used in Northern beef production
ii. SNP that predict polled/horned
iii. SNP that can be used for pedigree reconstruction in these breeds/composites
iv. SNP that predict breed composition
v. any recessive defects.
3. Develop novel ways of presenting genomic information that resonate and are meaningful to commercial producers in Northern Australia, to accelerate adoption of the use of genomic information in bull selection decisions.
4. Establish a core group of up to 75 herds that represent the production systems, and breeds and composites present in Northern Australia for validating genomic breeding values and evaluating alternative ways of presenting genetic and genomic information.
5. Train the next generation of researchers and professionals that will have the capacity to deliver large research projects that impact on productivity of beef production in Northern Australia.

Key findings

Genomic heritabilities and estimates of heterosis from the data were consistent with previous studies, suggesting the data is of good quality. The GBV derived from the data were of useful accuracy (0.3-0.45) in a validation with independent herds, and the GBV also appropriately predicted related traits in the Beef CRC data (GBV for heifer puberty were correlated with age at first CL, GBV for P4M were correlated with post-partum anoestrus interval).

Benefits to industry

The prediction equations from this project can be used to calculate GBVs for young bulls and heifers for fertility, growth and adaptation traits across a wide range of breeds, crossbreds and composites, enabling selection for these traits on an industry wide scale. The GBV for a herd can also be used to benchmark the genetic level of the herd, identifying areas of focus to improve profitability through bull selection in the future.
The project has identified a panel of 70 DNA markers (SNP) from whole genome sequence data that are highly associated with fertility, growth and adaptation traits. These SNP will be incorporated into future SNP arrays used for commercial genotyping, and will increase both the accuracy of GBV from this project, and also BREEDPLAN single step EBVs for Northern breeds.

MLA action

MLA continues to deliver data captured as part of the Livestock Genetics Program and implement the recommendations in this report.

Future research

This technology should be commercialised and rolled out, together with case studies of beef enterprises actually using the GBV to demonstrate their value, to the Northern Australian beef industry. The challenge of presenting GBV in a useful way that enable rapid selection decisions was addressed to some extent in this project, and has been the focus in other MLA projects, but continuing effort in this area, particularly at the commercial level is warranted. Incorporation of the data into BREEDPLAN to improve accuracy of single step EBV has been discussed with ABRI and AGBU. Appropriate models have been identified, and transfer of the data is underway. Data for purebred herds has already been transferred.


For more information

Contact Project Manager: Clara Bradford