Incredible technology surrounding the modern beef breeding process is making possible progeny that have quite literally returned from the dead.
Peter Hall, “Cotmore Downs”, Tunglebung via Bonalbo, has embraced artificial insemination and embryo transfer in his quest to build a foundation herd of a type of Hereford from a previous era.
A desire to breed pure Hereford genetics is a foray into family geneology as much as cattle breeding for Mr Hall, whose great, great grandfather, Richard Hall, established Cotmore Herefords in the UK, circa 1780.
Meanwhile, this colonial descendant is resurrecting nearly lost female lines that go back before Cotmore’s ‘Lovely’, born 1876, and others including ‘Gaudy’, 1850.
Earlier this month Mr Hall flushed a Brookland Pansy cow, on loan from a property at Crows Nest via Toowoomba, Queensland, along with another from the Gypsy cow family.
His search for appropriate genetics is being aided by Dorrigo Hereford breeder Doug Tyler, who praised a line of easy doing, soft females he said were from the ‘Pansy’ family. After some research Mr Hall found these cows descended from Gaudy, as explained in his library of old Hereford herd books.
Another old line that is being recreated at Cotmore Downs is Mayflower. The resurrection of these genetics is important says Mr Hall, explaining that the United Kingdom once boasted at least 80 Hereford cow families with that number dwindling to 20 today.
Quantum population gain
This spring marks Mr Hall’s fourth calving since he began his quest, beginning with six then 15 and soon 35 progeny. He will start culling next year.
Some of this research is his own, particularly that involving his own family lineage, which goes back to before the Hereford herd book was printed in tightly bound in red leather. These days he says the breed has all sorts of added genetics and his re-emerging line of old cows will serve as a go-to source for future genetic diversity. This month he received a request from North America for assistance in sourcing an Australian cow line named Beauty, which also goes back to Gaudy.
Such work has come to the attention of the British Rare Breeds Survival Trust the pure Hereford re-emerge as breed of choice, but Mr Hall says some stiff upper lips in the old country have a notion that Tunglebung bred Herefords are just not British and the resurrected herd shouldn’t count.
Mr Hall, who responds by saying science is on his side, reckons preliminary results show his old English progeny are capable of 20g more weight gain per day than his ‘modernised’ Hereford commercial steers with both raised in the same paddock. “Statistically the numbers are too small yet to draw conclusions but if they prove correct over time they will be a big advantage to the breed.”
Embryo Transfer makes it possible
Veterinarian Peter Atkinson, Allora Qld, grew up in in a family cattle business specialising in artificial insemination. With this background and a degree in veterinary science he now runs a cattle embryo transfer practice.
“Technology we use to harvest embryos hasn’t altered in 30 years,” Dr Atkinson said. “But the use of non-surgical methods is a major change.”
At Cotmore Downs,Tunglebung, Dr Atkinson and his colleagues - Dr Penelope McGown and Dr Lauren Said - flushed 14 Hereford cows and heifers. The females received an epidural block and mild sedative before each uterine horn was catheterised and flushed 10 times with 50 ml of special saline.
The collected fluid, containing embryos too small to see without a microscope, was poured through an ultra-fine filter which was washed into a ‘searching dish’ where the embryos sank, to be raised again under the microscope; then graded, washed – to remove debris from their shell called a Zona – before getting a dunk in a cryo-protectant and chucked in a can of liquid nitrogen.
Numbers of potential embryos – seven in the case of their first cow at Tunglebung – were predicted before the flush using an ultrasound scanner and trained eye to assess the number of ovulation sites on the ovaries. All the handwork was skilfully carried out by Dr McGown, feeling through the rectal wall to manipulate and scan the cows reproductive tract.