If there was a High-Performance Institute for Wagyu cattle, the Progeny Test Program would be it. The program’s annual semen sale will put the leading Wagyu genetics on offer to the test in its second year of operation. The Australian Wagyu Association’s global benchmarking project is holding its second annual semen sale next month, July 1-8 2022, via AuctionsPlus.
The sale will be run as a tender with a limited number of semen straws available from every standard sire entered into the Australian Wagyu Association’s Progeny Test Program (AWA-PTP), which allows breeders to have their sires tested and all progeny data recorded.
“The sale provides a unique opportunity for the Wagyu community to both access genetics set to be proven through the program, and link their herds to the AWA-PTP reference population,” CEO of the Australian Wagyu Association, Dr McDonagh, explains.
Returning to invest in the genetics on offer is Richard Cannon, owner of Cannon Wagyu near Hay, New South Wales. Mr Cannon purchased four semen packages in the 2021 semen sale and says linking his breeding herd to the AWA-PTP, and purchasing high-level genetics from vertically integrated beef breeders is an investment in his future.
“There are so many things that are very hard to pick up without scale, such as feed efficiency, which is going to be massively important going forward,” he says.
“I believe the information that’s going to come out of the Progeny Test Program will be very valuable, not just for the Wagyu sector, but for the whole cattle industry.”
With an Angus herd and a Fullblood Wagyu herd, Mr Cannon is also involved in a similar Angus benchmarking program. He points to the success of the Angus breed and eagerly anticipates the results of a similar model in the Wagyu sector.
“If we can get the genomics and the EBVs and link all that data to a breed society run progeny test program, it really improves the accuracy and will scrutinise the genetics well,” Mr Cannon says.
“Hats off to the association and the members for getting behind it.”
AWA registering cattle from across the globe
The Australian Wagyu Association registers cattle from across the globe and members receive an internationally recognised genetic evaluation and estimated breeding values (EBVs). With sires in the program nominated from international Wagyu breeders across Europe, the UK and the USA, both the program and the semen sale present an opportunity to participate in significant genetic evaluation on an international scale.
“It really is a global benchmarking project, and through the semen sale members in Australia and around the world can purchase genetics that we’re going to prove,” Dr McDonagh says.
“They’ll be able to understand how their genetics compare against the best genetics from around the world.”
It’s a scale not lost on Laird Morgan, owner of Lillyvale Feedlot and Arubial Wagyu in Condamaine, Queensland. Mr Morgan has two bulls in the first cohort of the AWA-PTP and another in the second. Young bulls with high EBVs and indexes, Mr Morgan says it’s a priority to test them in an objective environment.
“For us it’s extremely important to be able to prove them up, get them assessed independently, and link our herds to as many Fullblood Wagyu cattle as we can in Australia and the rest of the world,” he said.
Mr Morgan purchased semen in last year’s sale to strengthen the connection between his herd and others across the country, and is set to do so again next month at the 2022 AWA-PTP Semen Sale. Outside of Japan, Australia is home to the highest number of Fullblood Wagyu animals. The program will bring the number of proven Wagyu sires to more than 500, and enable smaller breeders to select for high-marbling sires, for instance with grater accuracy and use these sires in their herds. .
“The program allows us to choose sires for those valuable traits very, very accurately. It’s a way of accelerating and proving genetic gain for the Wagyu sector,” Dr McDonagh says.
Through recording progeny data from new sires and adding their genetic and performance data to the existing records, the Australian Wagyu Association aims to identify the super sires of the industry’s future. The plan is for another 250 industry sires to be added by mating up to 40 new sires every year from around the world across 2,000 females.
Launched in 2021, the first joinings for the nationally and internationally recognised AWA-PTP have now been completed. The AWA-PTP is set to continue for ten years and seven breeding cycles. While the majority of the new generation Wagyu sire’s progeny are yet to be born, they will be closely monitored through the program.
“We’ll be able to test the best breeding for these high performance traits in these sires that are going to come through and see how well their progeny performs,” Dr McDonagh says.
Similar to the dairy industry model, the AWA-PTP is fully funded by Australian Wagyu Association members and all money generated by the semen sale will continue driving the program. Member funds cover performance recording of all current Wagyu traits and feedlot performance, as well as development of crucial new female reproduction, meat and carcass quality traits for Japanese Black Wagyu Cattle.
“100 percent of funds raised by the sale will go towards things such as paying Contributor Herdsto genotype cattle and do the full genomic sequence so we can tell who’s related to who,” Dr McDonagh says.
The development of an industry project of this scale and scope has been no mean feat for the Australian Wagyu Association team. It’s been a particularly gratifying experience for Australian Wagyu Association Genetic Projects Manager, Laura Penrose, who holds a First Class Honours Degree in Science in the field of Quantitative Genetics. Passionate about animal science and genetics – her research project for her Honours Degree focused on breeding program design for cattle and the use of decision support tools to improve genetic gain – Laura says contributing to the future of the Wagyu sector in a unique and valuable way continues to drive her work.
“Being able to engage with producers and make a difference to Contributor Herds to help people get increased, long-term value out of their production systems is incredibly rewarding,” she says.
While the program allows both small and large scale breeders to have their sires proven on a global scale, it’s not an easy task for breeders to achieve independently. Laura encouraged producers of all capacities to embrace the genetics available through the AWA-PTP semen sale.
“People who may have a small cow herd that weren’t big enough to be involved as a Contributor Herd now have the chance to have their cows and female herd linked into the project,” Laura explains.
“We have a lot of young sires coming through and the program is going to prove them up. It’s an amazing opportunity for people to have access to these new genetics of very high accuracy.”