RECORDING the performance of commercial cattle and how they hang up helps the team at Ironbark Herefords know they're meeting the needs of their clients.
The 1100-breeder stud at Barraba, NSW, has been owned by three generations of the Spencer family, and is run alongside a commercial herd of 400 breeders, targeting the feeder steer market.
The family began breeding Herefords in 1925, with the stud starting in 1933 as a bull breeding unit for the Ironbark Pastoral Company.
The stud is now run by Adrian and Wendy Spencer and their children Isabella, Hugh and Ben.
Mr Spencer said Ironbark had embraced the use of estimated breeding values (EBVs) and objective selection many years ago, but the next step is genomic selection based on DNA testing.
With the combination of genotyping, phenotyping and kill data we are able to see exactly how each animal is performing from all aspects.
Genomics allows for a whole package of data for clients, giving them much more information about their genetic investment, Mr Spencer said.
More than 100 sires have been genomically tested over the past 3 years, and with the stud's large storage of semen, Ironbark has also been able to DNA test bulls dating back to 1984.
Last year Ironbark had all sale bulls genotyped as well as sire verified and disease checked prior to the sale.
"This will continue this year and into the future," Mr Spencer said.
"Last year we also started to test our top breeding females in the herd and we are planning to get every female kept for breeding genotyped, which will increase our reference population and improve our EBVs and accuracy throughout the herd.
"With the combination of genotyping, phenotyping and kill data we are able to see exactly how each animal is performing from all aspects.
"We are then able to select the best animals to breed from in order to improve our overall herd and provide our customers with the best cattle."
Mr Spencer said his goal was to use the latest technology to give clients the opportunity to breed animals that are consistent and can meet industry requirements.
"It's a large stud but we can genotype the entire herd which will boost the accuracy of EBVs so that we can select animals to produce a consistent type of cattle," he said.
"We're heading in a direction where EBVs will be a lot more meaningful because we'll have such high accuracy around what we're doing.
"I think one of the big problems that we've had in the Hereford breed is that they've been looking at what's outside the skin instead of what's under it, instead of looking at carcase performance, feedlot performance, grass performance. There hasn't been enough direction on how they perform and that's what drives profit."
Performance recording has been a focus for Ironbark Herefords for many years.
"We're creating programs that show us how our clients' cattle, using our bloodlines, are performing and we have graphs on where we're going with different traits.
"That objective data can prove we're making the right decisions when it comes to the profit drivers in beef cattle."
Mr Spencer said he looked forward to the possibilities of a merger of the American and Australian Hereford databases.
"This would dramatically increase the reference population of genomically recorded Hereford cattle with both phenotype and genotype data, allowing for faster genetic gain."
Bulls from leading US stud Holden Herefords have had a big influence on the Ironbark herd over the past decade.
"They're at the forefront of what's going on in the Hereford breed in the US and they have some of the leading carcase bulls in the world," Mr Spencer said.
"We've got a lot of kill data on the commercial cattle, both steers and heifers through feedlots.
"We've always achieved very good MSA grading with our cattle, and we've been using some of the best bulls for intramuscular fat in the breed.
"Ironbark's focus is on improving those profit driving traits for our clients like weight gain and carcase quality, while maintaining maternal traits.
"We've been able to eliminate calving problems because we've focused on low birthweight lines from Holden to breed an easy calving herd, with good milk, high fertility and good constitution.
"We're seeing better performance in the cattle - better weight gains in the feedlot and on grass, as well as better carcase performance.
"Our clients are getting improved performance off grass into the grass-fed markets which are offering premiums over some other markets."
Ironbark sells bulls to clients from a range of climates, from Taroom in Queensland to Tasmania and South Australia.
Those clients are also targeting a range of markets, from weaners to the feeder market, and the grass-fed trade.
"The stud's run in a commercial manner, which is why our bulls can perform in harsher climates," Mr Spencer said.
"Herefords are tough cattle - they've had to handle pretty tough conditions over the past couple of years, and if we didn't have the Herefords, I don't know if we'd still be here."
Mr Spencer said proven performance was the way forward for the Hereford breed and the beef industry.
"A lot of commercial breeders want the seedstock producers to show the way so they've got confidence in our production. I think that's our role as seedstock producers, to be at the forefront of the industry, and invest time into researching what's going on in this breed and the wider beef industry."