An increasing trend by graziers to cross highly productive Angus and Charolais bloodlines with Bos indicus-based cattle has prompted breeders Jim and Jackie Wedge to scour the world in search of the ideal genetics to get the best out of these mixes.
For the past 14 years, the Wedges have been using artificial insemination (AI) with almost every breeding cow to build-up their Ascot Charolais and Angus studs from the best seedstock bulls in Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada.
They also use back-up sires to the AI programs, which are typically AI sires in their own rights.
In 2020, the Wedges - with partners - bought the highest priced Angus bull sold in Australia that year - Dunoon "Prime Minister" - for $140,000. After extensive semen collection, this bull is now a walking sire at Ascot.
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Based at North Toolburra Station, in Queensland's Warwick region, the Wedges run about 300 stud females - half Angus and half Charolais - and calve in spring and autumn.
Mr Wedge said their overall goal was to provide commercial graziers with low risk, high-return, thick, polled bulls that suited all types of cattle programs.
"Our clients are targeting backgrounders, restockers, grass and grain finishing systems and processors seeking stock that fit into the Meat Standards Australia (MSA) grading system," he said.
We need to ensure our clients optimise their productivity and profits and can meet the market specifications they are seeking.
Ascot bulls are predominantly sold into all parts of Queensland. But the stud's reputation and popularity is growing and its sires have gone to New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.
Mr Wedge said the Charolais and Angus breeds were ideal for crossbreeding enterprises to put over Bos Indicus herds or into straight herds, such as Angus.
"Angus cattle have been particularly in demand in Queensland in recent years," he said.
"But Charolais are making a comeback, and average values for our bulls are pretty much at the same level now."
Mr Wedge said the Angus infusion into Brahman based Bos indicus herds led to production of faster finishing, polled progeny and carcases with a higher eating quality.
"An Ascot Charolais cross provides improved weight-for-age, extra muscle and bone and progeny will also generally finish faster than a straight Brahman or Bos Indicus derivative," he said.
The Wedges are breeding both Charolais and Angus bulls for the homozygous polled gene.
Mr Wedge said purebred Angus were naturally homozygous polled, but Ascot was also concentrating on breeding this into its Charolais herd.
"We are doing this without foregoing any of the traits that Charolais are renowned for, such as weight-for-age and muscling," he said.
"Having all progeny polled - or scurred - makes for herds that are easier to manage and with less animal husbandry requirements."
Ascot's Angus stud herd was originally based mainly on highly fertile and productive Millah Murrah female lines.
This leading Bathurst-based stud holds the record for Australia's highest priced Angus bulls sold at auction - at $160,000 in 2019 and $150,000 in 2015 - and the highest average for Angus bull sales.
"Millah Murrah has developed one of the country's highest quality breeding herds, and we continue to use its genetics regularly," Mr Wedge said.
He said the Ascot Charolais stud started with Palgrove, Moongool and Gobongo genetics - which continue to be a big influence - and had then diversified to include top sires from the US and Canada.
"We make significant investments in sourcing semen from the best Charolais and Angus sires in the world for the key breeding traits we are focused on," Mr Wedge said.
"We need to ensure our clients optimise their productivity and profits and can meet the market specifications they are seeking.
"They need to benefit from the bulls that have had been bred under Ascot's strict standards.
"We are continually benchmarking the stud parameters to ensure we deliver clients bulls to breed progeny that will calve easily, grow, finish quickly and grade highly."
Mr Wedge said they targeted Breedplan Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for calving ease, moderate birthweight, fast and high growth, positive fats , above average intramuscular fat (IMF) and eye muscle area (EMA).
"Weight is money, and we need to produce cattle that grow quickly to MSA standards," he said.
"We aim for moderate-sized females, with moderate mature cow weights, to ensure productive and efficient replacement females.
"Every calf born at Ascot is weighed to provide highly accurate data about birthweights, and we record days to calving, calving ease and scrotal and gestation length."
All Ascot bulls sold are DNA sire verified and Angus sires are DNA tested for genomic-enhanced EBVs. This year, all sale bulls will be semen and morphology tested.
Mr Wedge said the MSA grading system underpinned the stud's breeding selection criteria, meaning higher value carcases for the producer and better eating quality meat for the consumer.
"Part of our focus is positive fat, which is a big contributor to fertility, finishing ability and marbling," he said.
Mr Wedge uses individual animal identification and ultrasound scanning to measure, record and monitor the key Breedplan EBV traits - including EMA, IMF, 200,400 and 600-day growth, rib fat, rump fat, retail meat yield and weight-for-age data.
This feeds into the Breedplan system, including for the valuable Long Fed, Heavy Grass Fed, Short Fed and Terminal Indexes, which can help producers make selection decisions for their individual production goals.
The bulls used in the Ascot stud are also visually inspected and independently assessed to ensure there is optimum frame structure and conformation, and good temperament.
"The overriding aim is to have a well balanced bull that will improve herd feed conversion efficiency, beef production per hectare and profits for producers," Mr Wedge said.
This year, Ascot is consolidating its Angus and Charolais on-property sales on September 17 and plans to offer a total of about 130 bulls across both breeds.
Some of the upcoming sale bulls will be on display at Ascot's site at the 2021 Beef Week as rising two-year-olds and yearlings.
Featuring in Ascot's Angus sale line-up are sons from leading Australian and overseas-bred sires, including - for the first time - progeny from the record-breaking $160,000 bull Millah Murrah "Paratrooper".
There will also be bulls bred from breed-leading sires Millah Murrah "Loch Up" and Ascot "Hallmark".
Ascot's Charolais offering includes sons of Palgrave "Kudos" and the first sires it has bred from the $160,000 high selling US bull LT "Authority".
"The LT genetics are particularly exciting for the Australian Charolais industry because they will infuse early maturity, lower birthweight, greater calving ease and quick finishing to local herds," Mr Wedge said.
"The LT stud has been breeding for a more moderate, yet highly productive and muscular type, that will help to moderate the size of Australian female breeders - without losing the ability to produce fast-growing cattle with high meat yields and excellent carcase traits.
"It will allow meat production from a slightly smaller-framed animal that is easy to manage and efficient to run, but will be quick to put on fat at the feedlot - and progeny will be polled."
Mr Wedge said he was excited about the 2021 bull selling season, as cattle producers were feeling confident that the current exceptional market conditions would hold firm for another few years.
"Seasonal conditions have been patchy for our clients, but many are enjoying a turnaround after prolonged drought and will be looking to mate more females," he said.
"Others need a good soaking rain to get them going, but are benefiting from the high prices being paid across the board."
- More information: Jim and Jackie Wedge, 0419 714 652, www.ascotcattle.com.au