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Sire purchase: Australia’s champion bulls

19 Jul 2018

Author: Imogen Brennan

Photography: Genetics Australia

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The biggest supplier of bovine genetics in the country, Genetics Australia, is finding new markets in Latin America and China, as rapidly escalating demand for dairy and beef sees farmers grow their herds using Australian genetics.
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It’s staggering to think that when someone in South Africa, China or Latin America drinks a glass of milk, the dairy cow which produced that milk could have originated in Australia.

The breeding co-operative Genetics Australia is the biggest supplier of bovine genetics nationally and it’s seeing big increases in its export market around the world.

The co-operative, which is owned by Australian farmers, specialises in providing predominantly dairy-based bovine genetics (the innocuous way of describing bull semen), as well as insemination and breeding equipment for farmers.

While some may think this is a niche market, it is in fact a critical element in the production of the milk and dairy products a growing number of consumers around the world enjoy.

This is because artificial insemination is now the most commonly used form of reproduction in dairy herds (and increasingly beef herds) in developed countries, due to the high conception rate, the quality of the progeny and its cost effectiveness. 

“My estimate would be that more than 85 per cent of Australian farmers now use artificial insemination for dairy cows,” Genetics Australia CEO Anthony Shelly says.

Genetics Australia keeps a herd of more than 350 bulls at its pristine properties dotted around Victoria.

The DNA of each of their prized bulls has gone through years of scientific testing and innovative genomics to ensure the calves they produce are the highest quality.

“What genomics allows us to do now is take a DNA sample of a young bull and run it through the evaluation process to get a prediction on his genetic picture,”  Shelly says.

“That gives us an insight into production yield, calving ease and fertility, among other things.”

The genetics are transported around the country and the world in tubes called cattle straws, which allow the bull semen to be suspended in liquid nitrogen and easily accessed by farmers who have reproducing female cows.

Growing international appeal

The export market for Australian cattle straws jumped about 60 per cent in 2016-17, with more than 200,000 straws exported last year.

Genetics Australia is leading that export push, with an increasing number of countries buying their trusted Australian genetics.

South Africa is a long-established market for the co-operative and about a quarter of Genetic Australia’s revenue now comes from that 12-year-old relationship with its farmers.

“Our three main breeds within the dairy industry are the Holstein Friesian, the Aussie Red and also the Jersey,” Shelly says.

“The South Africans particularly like our Jersey bulls.”

Since 2013, Genetics Australia has introduced dairy and beef genetics into 12 different Latin American countries.

“Chile and Uruguay have been the main two markets for us, with Argentina and Brazil, too,” Shelly says.

China is one of the largest emerging dairy economies in the world, with many Chinese consumers looking to Australia to provide clean, trustworthy and healthy sources of nutrition.

A Chinese Government plan released in January reported that China will scale up its dairy farms and look to improve overall product quality, as well as ensuring at least 65 per cent of its dairy companies have more than 100 animals each by 2020.

This is good news for Genetics Australia, which has seen significant growth in the beef and dairy market in China in the past two years.

“That’s to do with the appeal Australia has globally – and that’s around being clean, green and trustworthy,” Shelley explains.

“Many of the live dairy animal exports to China have come from Australia. So their experience with Australian livestock is a positive one. It makes good sense that they’d want to follow up with Australian genetics.”

Despite New Zealand having its own well-established dairy industry, Genetics Australia has seen great success there in the past four years, which Shelly says is mostly because of the uniqueness of the Australian cow.

“She’s a moderate-sized cow, she’s been developed over many years, she’s very robust to the extremes in temperature, she has a great capacity to take in plenty of fodder and she’s a higher yielding cow than a typical New Zealand cow.” Shelly explains.

“The Australian evaluation system is regarded as the best the in the world, these evaluations provide clarity on the positive contribution of ‘The Australian Cow’ highlighting her superior health production capability.”

The gold standard in Australian bulls

Despite the export market for Genetics Australia being a relatively young one, the breeding co-operative is this year celebrating its 60th birthday.

Shelly is reflective about what’s made the business thrive where others have failed.

“One of the things that stood out to me when I recently read the very first minutes of the co-operative was the purpose… The original purpose was to deliver additional profits to farming families.

“When I reflect on that, that ethos has never changed,” he says.

“Also, I originally started here in 1989 as a 17-year-old as a farm hand....I think this helps to tell the story of Genetics Australia.

“That importance of continuing to grow our people through training and development is important for us,” Shelly says.

During his time at Genetics Australia, the CEO has seen many productive bulls join the ranks. But some stand out more than others, like their 13-year-old Holstein Friesian named Medallion, who has held the title of ‘farmer favourite’ for the past six years.

“The farmers just love his daughters because they calve really easily, they’re strong and start drinking milk quickly. When the heifers come into the dairy, they’re placid and easy to work with, so the farmers come back for more from him,” Shelly says.

He estimates Medallion has more than 200,000 daughters in Australia.

“He would have the highest number of progeny in Australia out of any bull, without a doubt,” the CEO proudly admits.

Read more about Genetics Australia.