A plan by Angus Australia to shift more of its bulls into northern Australia is being rapidly accelerated with the development of an online tool to help beef producers in non-temperate climates better manage Bos Taurus/Bos Indicus crossbreeding programs.
The organisation's project officer, Ken Bryan , who has been gaining feedback from producers throughout North Queensland, the Northern Territory and Northern WA on their experience using Angus bulls, says Angus Australia is aiming to release the interactive web-based program by the end of the year.
Mr Bryan said producers using the program will be able to enter their data relevant to their location and enterprise and the program would then make a recommendation on how best to manage Angus bulls in their operation.
"It's about identifying the main stressors that can affect Angus bull performance in the north and then putting management plans in place to extend their working life," he said.
The current work by Mr Bryan is the last phase of a two-year project which started in 2010 based on the initial work of breeding specialist and consultant Don Nicol who identified different zones throughout northern Australia which would dictate different management strategies for Angus bulls.
Angus Australia commissioned the work at a time when it became widely accepted the national herd was moving north and speeding towards the 30 million head mark by 2013, while proportionately greater numbers of Angus bulls were still being sold to buyers in southern Australia.
The rationale was that if Angus Australia was to capture its share of that increase in numbers it would have to strongly consider a new northern focus in its extension and outreach activities, taking into consideration the findings and recommendations of Mr Nicol's report.
What Mr Nicol highlighted in his report was that based on Queensland auction sale statistics with comparisons to the national Angus bull sale trend, demand for Angus bulls in Queensland had dropped steadily in the past decade from a high in 2001/2002.
In 1998 auction sales in Queensland supplied 23 percent (855 of 3685) of national Angus bull sales at auction. A decade later in 2008 Queensland Angus bull auctions supplied 9pc (622 of 6836) of national Angus sales.
The problem, Mr Nicol identified, was that without knowledge of interstate purchases and paddock/consignment sales by Queensland members, Angus Australia had very limited information about bull supply numbers into the north and was missing a massive opportunity for growth.
Even if, as he argued, more than 1000 Angus bulls were entering the Queensland herd each year, the figure was still well behind the national trend in bull sales.
"Even with more than 1000 bulls entering the market each year the breed is only making a very small impact on the northern cattle herd," he said.
New information on how to maximise the working performance of Angus bulls in non-temperate Australia began by surveying beef producers who used Angus bulls across the State and ascertaining how they adapted to their respective locations.
Mr Nicol divided Queensland into three zones: Zone A the southern-central 'endowed' zone; Zone B the coastal and subtropical 'ticky' zone; and Zone C the northern 'harsh' zone.
The survey determined how the Angus bulls had responded in adaptation terms to a range of stressors such as heat, ticks, buffalo fly, distance to water points and nutrition.
Based on his findings from the survey and discussions with several a
dvisers, a major outcome was a 'stressor' checklist that new buyers of Angus bulls could use to assess the potential stress levels on their property, designed to help them make appropriate management decisions or changes ahead of the bulls' introduction.
In the checklist, each zone is given a fixed 'zone stressor' score: zero for Zone A, 10 for Zone B and 25 for Zone C.
Users of the checklist are then required to fill out the checklist by allocating a pre-weighted score to on-property stressors ranging from parasitic pressure through to environmental, nutritional and management factors.
For example, herds that experience a high tick infestation under low treatment are given a weighting of 20. If a property has poor shade it is rated as a 10, but properties with good nutrition all year round will earn a minus 10.
The accumulated scores give producers an indication of where their property sits in terms of stress levels, providing corresponding management guidelines that will help Angus bulls adapt to their environment and ultimately thrive.
For example, a property in the 'low stress' 0-25 band will only require small modifications to bull management, whereas at the other end of the spectrum, in the top 'very high stress' 75-100 band, significant modifications to bull management will be required to achieve survival of purchased bulls and Angus-infused calves on the ground.
While Mr Nicol concedes different levels of management intensity will be needed depending on where properties are located, it means that for the first time beef producers, regardless of their location, will have the opportunity to introduce higher Angus content into their crossbreeding programs without geography acting as a barrier.
And now they also have a something of a road map to follow if they are thinking of making the transition, he says, especially once the online tool is released.
If beef producers are in Zone A, he says, there is considerable scope to increase numbers of high-grade Angus and Angus-cross cattle.
"Angus bulls under reasonable management regimes, work and last well and straight-bred and cross-bred cows with more than 50 percent Angus content perform well and cost effectively," he said.
In the ticky area of Zone B, east of the Great Dividing Range and towards the coast south of Townsville, Angus bulls can perform well where parasite control, nutrition
and breeder herd management allows them preferential treatment.
"There is potential for growth of Angus sales in this zone associated with successful models of crossbreeding and market flexibility and MSA premiums," Mr Nicol said.
In the harsh, ticky Zone C, north of the Flinders Highway between Townsville and Mount Isa, there are greater challenges for Angus bulls.
However, Mr Nicol believes there is more promise in the lower rainfall zones to the west where more of the larger, extensive pastoral company stations exist.
"Senegus and Brangus bulls will be complementary in most situations in these areas," he said.
"Crossbreeding in this zone is often terminal and breeds may be changed every few years to maintain hybrid vigour."
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