Wagyu game back in black with genomics

Home grown skills and science drives world beating Wagyu genetics

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Mayura full blood Wagyu bulls topped at $90,000 during last Friday's sale.

Mayura full blood Wagyu bulls topped at $90,000 during last Friday's sale.

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The Australian Wagyu industry is sitting pretty because of its focus on genomics, as evidenced at last week's Mayura sale. Walgett Grazier Charlie Pye is now investing in a well marbled future.

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Australia's Wagyu seedstock industry is leading the world with the proven accuracy of predicting progeny potential when it comes to marbling, and home grown genomics can take all the credit.

The crash of F1 (first-cross) Wagyu a couple years ago following the popular movement to cross full blood bulls with just about anything, showed the feedlot industry that unproven crossbreds which failed to marble might cost more in feed after 400 days than they were worth in the first place.

Thanks to investment from the MLA and expertise from Breedplan at Armidale, those remaining in the game are turning to the best of the best when it comes to breed genetics.

Charlie Pye, Gingie Pastoral at Walgett, wasn't afraid to pay $70,000 for two-year-old Wagyu heifer, Mayura P0486, last week. She rates equal fifth in the Australian female Wagyu population for her marble score of 2.7, Self-Replacing Index (SRI) of 265 and marble finesse score of 0.39.

Genetically she is a double cross of Itoshigenami Jnr, currently the third top trait bull on Wagyu Breedplan for marble score and SRI, and a previous industry leader.

Mr Pye had been in Wagyu cattle before, running full bloods with "average genetics" on a property at Charleville, and concentrating on cropping and sheep at his home farm. Having sold the Charleville property to the Chinese, he has had a rethink about his Wagyu enterprise.

"I could have kept them and bred on and improved the genetics that way but I thought I'd be better off selling those and concentrating on one exceptional beast," he said.

"The dip in the Wagyu game a couple years ago taught me that the only place to be is in the top one per cent."

The Mayura heifer will be sent to Keith Hay and his bovine IVF company GeneFlow at Tocumwal where she will join another 2.7 marble score Wagyu cow owned by GeneFlow and become inducted into its in vitro fertilisation (IVF) reproduction program.

Fertilised embryos will be placed back into some of Gingie's 500 Angus recipient cows, purchased before the drought broke and placed on feed.

Calves will be DNA tested and grown out to 250kg in a smaller paddock on the 25,000 hectare Walgett property, which includes a registered feedlot that can support cows in a drought.

"From there we will decide their future," Mr Pye said. "A lot of them we will sell but we'll keep the exceptional ones."

Mr Pye acknowledged the Wagyu game was based on reputation.

"It's a connection thing," he said. "You will have a good business if you have connections and a rapport with your buyers. The genomic market blew open all sorts of possibilities. Before genomics it was just estimated breeding values. Genomics is based on DNA and there's no argument; you know what you are getting."

Mr Hay at GeneFlow collects oocytes or eggs, twice a week, then fertilises them before freezing by vitrification, a method that does not harm the embryo. Only the best embryos at day seven and eight are implanted fresh into recipient cows using a timed insemination method or are put back into storage.

"This form of embryo creation has moved to become the dominant system in the world over the last four years, first in South America then the US and now Australia due to more calves per cow per year, being created," he said.

"The heifer Charlie Pye bought has international value as seen in Friday's bidding from places like Hungary, Switzerland (where the volume buyer came from), the UK and US.

"Australia is now seen as having the leading genetic pool outside of Japan because we have a genomic number.

"At the US Wagyu sale on Sunday all the prominent Australian studs got a mention."

Mr Hay said the size of the Wagyu gene pool globally outside of Japan was broad enough, particularly when one considered 11 Fresian cows were said to have started a dairy breeding industry.

The future for Wagyu is in polled cattle, with current marbling scores of up to 2.1, but when compared to the only proven carcase trait leader, Mayura Itoshigenami Jnr at 3.3 for marble score and with a 97 per cent accuracy, there remains much work to do.

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