The planning of our 2023 matings is nearly complete. 19 different sires will get a run – 18 from Australia and one from New Zealand. Our sire selection is based primarily on risk reduction. We don’t want to go to all the effort and expense of breeding an animal that is not going to fill our criteria for retention, or be good enough to qualify for our sale. Our primary goal is to produce bulls that improve the bottom line for commercial producers, and the first stop on that trail are bulls that are fertile and have serving capacity.
Real World Performance
The bulls we acquire here in Australia get used in commercial programs via the Te Mooi Carcase Crew program. We make sure they perform, and we have the chance to assess how many cows they actually get in calf in a real-world situation. We can also analyse loads of calves which helps us refine our breeding decisions even further. Assessing lots of commercially produced progeny of our bulls gives us a great deal of information that we can rely on. We can assess temperament, growth pattern and direct abattoir data on the sons of the bulls we use. A bull himself may not exhibit a trait but may pass it on to his progeny, be it a positive or a negative. The commercial progeny we produce allows us to identify the truly elite performers.
The reason our program is so heavily weighted to Australian sires is simple: we have the most information on them. Unfortunately, we just don’t get the same type of information from Canadian-based sires. Deciding not to use them is not a commentary on their quality – we just don’t know enough about them to make that leap. We will however happily buy sons of proven Canadian sires if they are performance-recorded and have been physically inspected by our team. 2023 saw us purchase Sons of HS Untapped 3A, the highest IMF% bull to come out of Canada, Spots ‘n Sprouts Stands Alone, a perennial top performer, and Ravensworth Invictus 103C, a genuine heifer bull who consistently puts well-made individuals on the ground.
All three of these Canadian sires have been widely used in Australia. The opportunity to inspect their sons in the flesh, and assess their contemporary group performance gives us the confidence to use them in our program. We want as much information as we can gather before using a bull, as we just can’t risk producing animals that don’t hit the mark.
Getting The Job Done
A few of the bulls out working with our Carcase Crew herds that will see use in our 2023 stud matings include Minnamurra Pageant P216, who is lining up for his fourth season at The Rivers. He gets the job done all around. With high pregnancy rates, easy calving and plenty of carcase quality, he just doesn’t miss. Minnamurra Nestor will also make a contribution. He is lining up for his fifth season with Wade King at Killawarra. I spoke with Wade the other day and he couldn’t be more glowing with his feedback: “I’ve had a lot of bulls and none better than this guy. His calves are exceptional, he gets the cows in calf and he is a dream to deal with”. High praise indeed.
JAD Quinella is doing his thing at Hazelwynde. Lining up for his third spring, where there has been no intervention at calving time and good pregnancy rates. His progeny have scale, structure and plenty of eye appeal. By the end of the year we will have a lot more information on this guy, but we like what we see so far. Blue Spark Rogue is a bull who is very unassuming and is lining up for his third spring after having also worked a couple of autumn joinings. He too has high conception rates, is easy calving, and is so easy to deal with. He is producing some cracking calves that are in the pipeline of a couple of leading processors, so we are about to get a great deal more data back.
It’s hard to convey just how satisfying it is to drive around hundreds of progeny by these guys and then be able to follow their journey. They deliver enormous value to our program. That is why it’s very difficult to substitute an outside sire when we have little idea about their strengths or weaknesses. It’s all very well to think you are using the latest and the greatest, it’s completely another to be comfortable in the fundamentals of the sires you use. The hype can sometimes leave you with the sizzle but no steak.
There are some very high-profile Canadian sires that get sprooked here in Australia, but get very little use in Canada. This leads me to ask why? The CSPA registry is a great tool for researching what is actually going on. A couple of interesting examples without identifying the bulls in question are as follows: Firstly a sire who is claimed to be a “breed changer” has produced six natural calves in five seasons, and 14 calves in total in Canada. No one outside his ownership has used him in Canada. How are 14 calves going to change the breed? A second example from a high profile program, are two acclaimed bulls that are used via natural service in Canada. Both have calves produced in one season only, and they produced two and three calves respectively. I don’t have the answers to the myriad of questions this information raises, but in all cases, it doesn’t fill me with confidence. We have high regard for bulls that we know can actually work.
Semen tests are important, but they only tell so much. The serving capacity of a bull is a product of his libido, his athleticism, and his structural correctness. You really don’t know if a bull has the capacity to cover a significant number of cows in a short period until they actually do it. We assess our bulls with significant numbers of stud and commercial cows. As they say in the classics: “Black cats have black kittens”. We want to sell bulls that are by bulls that have a good record of fertility and serving capacity.
A Balanced Approach
When we plan a mating we start phenotypically. We consider the areas we can structurally improve the female and determine the sires that can deliver those improvements.
We then look to maximise the profit-driving traits of the mating. Balance is everything. We don’t try to shoot the lights out for any one trait, but instead, we plan to have a high-performing balanced genetic profile that is the most beneficial to commercial producers. Gestation length, birth weight, growth traits and carcase traits are all considered.
We then look to the pedigree side of things. What is the inbreeding coefficient of the mating, and who are the ancestors we would duplicate if we chose to line breed? This step poses an interesting question and one that is often talked about in Speckle Park. That is the mythical “outcross”. The word “outcross” is often used but rarely defined. Does it genuinely exist in a breed as young as Speckle Park? Is it important? Is it beneficial? These I think are questions for a separate blog…
Once we have assessed the structural requirements of the mating, looked to maximise the profit driving traits and having investigated the pedigree, we have a decision. Not all our decisions are going to work, and even the good decisions are not going to work all of the time. You only have to look at full siblings to know that there is variation in matings. There is the luck of the genetic lottery, and then there is the hope that all the things that can go wrong, in the time from conception to sale or production don’t. And what we planned and hoped for comes to fruition. Thankfully, sometimes it does.