Queensland Country Life

Raising the bar for the global Wagyu sector

Enhancing quality: The Australian Wagyu Association Progeny Test Program is specifically designed to bring the number of proven Wagyu sires to more than 500 sires

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WAGYU - WORLDS LUXURY BEEF

Wagyu beef is globally recognised as the elite dining experience for beef due to its supreme quality underpinned by high marbling with unsaturated fats.

A small number of Wagyu cattle and their genetics were exported from Japan in the 1990s. From these genetics, an estimated $1.5 Billion Australian Wagyu industry has developed which is now the major exporter of Wagyu beef around the world.

The Australian Wagyu Association (AWA) is the organisation that supports the global Wagyu sector. The AWA for the last 30 years has been performing DNA testing, parent verification and genetic analysis for Wagyu cattle supporting the integrity and genetic improvement of this sector.

It maintains a global registry of Wagyu cattle with more than 900 members, spanning 20 countries. The number of breeding Wagyu cattle has increased significantly in the past five years from just over 85,000 in 2017 to now more than 200,000 individual animals (see figure 1). Genetics from these animals is used in elite Fullblood (100 per cent pure Wagyu) and amplified across more than 300,000 F1 (first cross) Wagyu in Australia alone.

We strongly encourage seedstock marketers (breeders) to become involved and stand by their product. All available assistance should be provided to the PTP to ensure no potential stars slip through the cracks.

- Ryan Carter, manager Brindley Park Property Group, ACC.
Figure 1: Wagyu BREEDPLAN sire, dam and calf trends.

CONSTANT FOCUS ON IMPROVEMENT

Given the elite status of Wagyu products, performance recording, genomic technologies and genetic analysis of Wagyu cattle is key to identifying and developing the best Wagyu genetics. The AWA delivers Wagyu BREEDPLAN, which produces Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for high-value traits in breeding animals. Wagyu breeders use EBVs in conjunction with other selection criteria when deciding which animals to mate in an attempt to breed superior progeny. Selections made using EBVs have driven the genetic progress made by the breed in recent years.

Wagyu genetic gain is genomically driven, with 100,000 genomic DNA tests conducted in the last three years alone, representing 50pc coverage of the total breeding population. These genomic tests are used by breeders to detect the genetic and performance potential of animals at a young age to accelerate genetic gain within the breed.

Since the introduction of genomic testing in 2017, the AWA has witnessed rapid genetic gains in Wagyu cattle for several high-value carcase traits. Figures 2a-2c show the change in average estimated breeding values over five years from 2017 to 2021 for Carcase Weight, Eye Muscle Area (EMA) and Marble Score.

Figure 2A: Change in average carcase weight EBV.
Figure 2B: Change in average Eye Muscle Area (EMA) EBV.
Figure 2C: Change in average Marble Score (MS) EBV.

THE GOLD STANDARD BENCHMARKING PROGRAM FOR NEW WAGYU BREEDERS

AWA 2021 - 2031 PROGENY TEST PROGRAM

Within the current AWA genetic analysis, some individual Australian and International Wagyu sires have more than one hundred carcase progeny records. So far, AWA members have recorded significant numbers of carcase progeny data on approximately 250 Wagyu sires, making significant genetic gain in all carcase traits. However, data recording, particularly of carcase traits, can be difficult for smaller producers that do not operate a vertically integrated supply chain.

The AWA-Progeny Test Program is specifically designed to bring the number of proven Wagyu sires to more than 500 sires whilst allowing smaller breeders to have their sires tested and all progeny data collected on a large scale program. The aim of the program is to add another 250 industry sires by mating up to 40 new sires per year from around the globe across 2000 females. These will be benchmarked against each other as well as famous Japanese Foundation sire Michifuku (WKSFM0164) and his son Sanjiro (WKSFP0100).

By collecting progeny records from new sires and linking their performance and genetic data to existing data, the AWA hopes to identify new standout sires that will drive future genetic improvement for Wagyu.

COHORT 1 JOININGS ALMOST COMPLETE

In year one of the AWA PTP (2021), 40 sires were nominated to the program. They are currently being tested across nine large Fullblood breeding herds. Seven out of the nine breeding herds have completed their AI programs, with the last two herds to join next month; the first herd to complete an Autumn join. In total, 1433 females out of an anticipated 2000 have been joined to AWA-PTP sires so far. Calving is due to commence in July continuing through to November 2022.

By having herds join at different times, the intention is to stagger the entry of steer progeny into the feedlot to collect Net Feed Intake data. The AWA will continue their existing partnership with Kerwee Feedlot in order to collect NFI information on as many progeny as possible.

Steer progeny will be fed between 450 to 550 days before slaughter. Carcase traits will be collected at time of slaughter. The program will capture data for existing traits, as well as new traits including eating quality and fatty acid composition.

Arthur and Pam Dew of Longford Station, Bendemeer NSW, own one of the nine Contributor Herds involved in the Program.

"Our primary focus is on carcase traits. Marbling, carcase weight and eye muscle area," Mr Dew said.

"It's difficult to find bulls that produce this well and produce it consistently. It took us a long time to breed our top sire Mr Awesome, and bulls like this are rare. The Progeny Test Program has sires with varied breeding values that need to be proven up. Hopefully, it can help to identify other stand out sires," he said.

CALL OUT FOR NEW SIRE NOMINATIONS TO PRODUCE COHORT 2 PROGENY

"We want people who might think about nominating a sire to feel confident that they are getting value for money because the AWA-PTP is both nationally and internationally recognised," AWA CEO Dr Matt McDonagh said.

"Australia is home to the largest number of Fullblood Wagyu animals outside of Japan, and the AWA registers cattle from all around the world and provides its members an internationally recognised genetic evaluation and resultant estimated breeding values," he said.

One of the main intentions of the PTP is to allow both small and large scale, domestic and international breeders to enter their sires so that they may be proven and benchmarked on a global scale. Global benchmarking of sires is very difficult for most breeders to achieve by themselves.

To create optimal linkage around the world between our existing data and the AWA-Progeny Test Program, it is highly advantageous to all AWA members that a broad cross-section of the Wagyu Sector participates in the AWA-PTP.

Mr Wayne Grimshaw entered his sire MOYFK00194 in the first intake of the PTP. When asked why Mr Grimshaw entered this particular sire he said "K00194 has good frame and carcases that has marbled more than what his EBV says".

Mr Grimshaw sees the value in benchmarking sires through the progeny test program as "having sires with progeny in the one breeding, feeding and slaughter group allows us to see how each sire compares with the other". He's also nominated a bull in the second intake of Progeny Test Sires.

Australian Country Choice (ACC) has two sires in the first intake.

ACC Brindley Park Property Group manager Ryan Carter said being involved "can only help to validate the accuracies of current and future estimated breeding values".

  • Nominations for Cohort 2 are open now, and close on 16 March 16, 2022. Submit a nomination online on the AWA website

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