Structured breeding programs and progeny testing has been a mainstay of genetic improvement across the Australian cattle industry for more than 30 years.
The chief executive officer of the Australian Wagyu Association, Dr Matt McDonagh, noted that when he started as a PhD student in the first Beef CRC 26 years ago in 1995, there were already established beef cattle reference populations that were recording traits of importance to the Australian beef industry from the early 1990s.
After completing his PhD, Dr McDonagh worked for two years at the USDA Meat Animal Research Centre (MARC) in Clay Centre Nebraska. The USDA had been running similar but expanded crossbreeding programs at MARC since the 1970s.
Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Wagyu Association (AWA), Dr Matt McDonagh. (Image: BeefCentral)
“Fast forward to today and the race is on...Using data from structured breeding programs with pedigree and genomic information is commonplace across research, industry and corporates in the Australian beef industry. When you consider that the first full mammalian genome – the mouse – was published less than 20 years ago, the progress has been astounding,” Dr McDonagh said.
A new model for genetic improvement and industry-wide growth has been implemented in the Wagyu sector. Run by the Australian Wagyu Association, the Wagyu sector is driving forward with an innovative approach to delivering genetic gain.
Through its own Progeny Test Program, the AWA is drawing in leading genetics from around the world to create a global reference population, testing up to 40 new Wagyu sires each year.
Dr McDonagh said one of the targets for the program was to include ten international sires per year, so that the program becomes the global benchmark for performance measurement for high value traits important to Wagyu.
Large semen donation to back program
As a demonstration of how the Wagyu sector has engaged with the program, AWA members have donated 400 semen straws from high value foundation sires to the program from their own tanks, including the highly regarded and sought-after benchmark sire WKSFM0164 Michifuku, one of the leading and first sires to be exported from Japan.
Dr McDonagh said the Australian Wagyu sector had been the hub of genetic progress for the global Wagyu community, with export of data backed Australian genetics a dominant feature of global Wagyu breeding programs.
“These breeders look to Australia for the only source of scientifically-proven genetics,” he said.
Through the AWA’s Progeny Test Program, leading Australian genetics that have been outcrossed with the best international genetics will be brought back into Australia for testing head-to-head against the leading edge of next generation Wagyu genetics. Up to 40 sires per year will be tested from around the world.
AWA PTP semen sale
One of the core benefits from the program, and part of its unique and innovative design, is the annual AWA-PTP Semen Sale. Through this sale, limited semen straws from the AWA-PTP sires will be sold the Wagyu sector.
Dr McDonagh says this would allow broad linkage of the Wagyu sector to the core reference population driving genetic gain for Wagyu.
“Wagyu breeders can purchase genetics from next generation Wagyu sires and know that these genetics will be performance proven and be well represented in the Wagyu reference population,” he said.
“It is a unique model that will prove-up 250 new Wagyu sires and enable linkage of the global Wagyu herd to a core database – a single source of truth – that will benefit those who participate in the AWA-PTP and those who use genetics from the AWA-PTP”.
Another unique aspect of the model being run is that the project is self-funded and creates a unique industry genetic nucleus for the future of the Wagyu sector. Through the AWA, sire entry fees and proceeds from the AWA-PTP semen sale, the program is a stand-alone industry initiative, with full industry engagement and commercial benefit.
Dr McDonagh said that the linkage between seedstock and commercial production in the Wagyu sector is integrated and immediate.
“Being a stand-alone industry driven project means that the data is not encumbered by other parties, so commercialisation is not restricted and can be rapid. The flow on effects from genetic gain in elite seedstock can be amplified quickly through commercial production.”