Cattle breeder pushes hybrid vigor for improved performance

Package of traits from composite specialist

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IN THE MIX: Tom and Kate Hicks specialise in breeding Red and Black Composite and Red Angus bulls with Tom's parents Andrew and Anne.

IN THE MIX: Tom and Kate Hicks specialise in breeding Red and Black Composite and Red Angus bulls with Tom's parents Andrew and Anne.

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Composite cattle make good use of genetic technology to lift productivity.

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Hicks Beef is putting genomic technologies to work in its composite cattle stud to push productivity gains for the benefit of commercial clients.

Operated by Andrew and Anne Hicks, their son Tom and his wife Kate, the stud has specialised in breeding Red and Black Composite and Red Angus bulls for more than 20 years.

A key benefit of this system is being able to fastrack the advantages of both maternal and paternal hybrid vigor to achieve more rapid genetic gains in major beef profit-driving traits.

Tom Hicks said this was especially beneficial for maternal and fertility traits, as female stock underpinned the overall long-term production performance of the herd in terms of number of progeny born each year - and the growth and carcase quality of those animals.

"In the sheep industry, it is common practice to use composite ewes to lift flock productivity gains," he said.

"But it is a lesser-practiced strategy for cattle, even though we know it is equally as valuable for beef producers."

The Hicks have 1500 Composite and Red Angus breeders on their property at Holbrook, where they have raised cattle for 80 years, and all are run under commercial conditions.

Mr Hicks said every one of their stud and commercial cows must conceive, calve and wean a calf every year to keep their spot in the herd.

"There are no passengers in a profitable beef enterprise," he said.

"We need to operate commercially so that we know we are on the right track with our breeding."

The Hicks grass finish about half of their annual calf drop and sell the remaining to feed lotters or, in more recent times, to Greenhams in Tasmania to be finished on grass - depending on seasonal conditions.

Hicks Beef cattle are regular top-10 performers in the annual Beef Spectacular Feedback Trials held at Teys Australia's Jindalee Feedlot.

This annual initiative compares weight and carcase outcomes from more than 400 head of cattle that are fed for 100-plus days.

Mr Hicks said the stud's use of Australian beef Composites enabled it to combine the desirable traits of British and European breeds to create an animal that put on more weight, without sacrificing carcase quality or maternal production.

"We can exploit a big gene pool from bloodlines across Australia and around the world," he said.

"But we are making such good gains at home that we are increasingly using our own-bred bulls over our breeders."

The team of Hicks Beef bulls to be shown at Beef Week this year are ranked in the top 4 per cent of the International Genetic Solutions (IGS) multi-breed evaluations index.

Drawing on data from 20 million head of cattle, IGS says this index system provides the most scientifically-credible, cost-effective, quickest, direct red meat multi-breed genetic comparison in the world.

The Hicks have several times topped the IGS All Purpose Index, which puts real dollar values on traits to calculate the genetic combination that provides the highest return.

HI-TECH: The Hicks use the Total Genetic Resource Management™ (TGRM) software system to crunch data on key performance traits in their herd and speed-up genetic gains.

HI-TECH: The Hicks use the Total Genetic Resource Management™ (TGRM) software system to crunch data on key performance traits in their herd and speed-up genetic gains.

"Using this index as a selection tool helps us breed highly profitable stock with fast growth, but keeps a lid on the size of our females - with the goal of optimising returns per hectare," Mr Hicks said.

He said the family also subscribed to the Total Genetic Resource Management (TGRM) software system to crunch data on Estimated Breeding Values (EBV) and Estimated Progeny Differences (EPD) traits from its herd.

This also helped to identify the best breeding stock for increasing the pace of genetic gains.

All of the Hicks' cattle are genotyped using DNA-based testing to accurately identify those carrying markers for key profit-driving traits.

"We also carefully assess our cows to ensure they are good structurally," Mr Hicks said.

"But the use of latest genomics technologies and systems gives us the objective data to back-up our selection processes to continually increase production and profits.

"We can select the elite and better breeders earlier to reap the benefits of these animals producing higher dividends right throughout their lifetime.

"It comes down to 'stayability', in that the longer the highest productivity females stay in the herd, the more profit they will generate - for the same use of land and feed.

"As our margins get squeezed every year, this is integral to long-term business success."

Mr Hicks said Hicks Beef bulls shown at Beef Week - and the scheduled 55 head of sires to be offered at its annual sale (along with Red Angus heifer lines) - would have EDP data available.

He said, overall, Hicks Beef wanted its clients to be running highly fertile, top-returning herds.

"We want upward trends in pregnancy test results, weaner weight gains and production of carcases that hit the grid better, with more muscle and marbling," he said.

"It is also important that progeny perform well in the feedlot when being finished."

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