STRONG emphasis on data collection and using genomics to predict animal performance is leading to increased demand for Australian Wagyu sires, which are making an impact in herds across the globe.
Having access to genomics and estimated breeding values (EBVs) is giving Australian and international breeders more confidence in the genetics they're selecting and the Australian Wagyu Association's work in embracing technology and introducing Breedplan is paying off, with large numbers of Australian cattle being registered and performance recorded, along with a few international registrations.
Bill Cornell, beef product and sales manager for ABS Australia, has been part of the push for genomics and data to be used more widely in the breed for the past five years.
Mr Cornell's involvement in the Wagyu breed began, through well-known former Australian Wagyu Association CEO Graham Truscott, who'd also spent many years running Angus Australia.
"Graham asked me to deliver a message from ABS at a Wagyu conference, in terms of what ABS does, what we look for, and how we work on science," he said.
"At the time, Wagyus didn't have Breedplan, and nobody was prepared to put kill sheets up and collect the data, so we saw them as a hobby breed. I spoke about how to objectively measure for growth and marbling and a few people wanted to work with me."
One of the interested breeders was Laird Morgan, Arubial Wagyu, who owned the bull Macquarie Prelude that kicked off ABS Australia's successful run with the breed. Mr Morgan had purchased Prelude, the number on indexing bull in the breed in Australia, as a nine-month-old calf.
"Laird wanted to feed as many Japanese Wagyu-cross animals as he could and collect the data," Mr Cornell said.
"Prelude went viral and has been used on every continent in the world, as well as in a New Zealand dairy beef trial, and he gave us a benchmark for Wagyu performance. People talk about Michifuku, but Prelude was the first modern-day Wagyu that has been used globally."
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Prelude helped put Australian Wagyu on the world stage, and by working with EBVs and genomics, Mr Morgan was able to breed more bulls that are in high demand - Arubial Bond and Arubial United.
"Bond is now the number one bull for marbling, equal second for marbling fineness, and number three in the breed for eye muscle area. Wagyu is the number two revenue breed behind Angus and this year Bond and United are in our top five bulls revenue-wise across every breed in ABS Australia's beef program.
"Overall the United bull is the one that people are gravitating to because he's in the top 5pc of the breed for gestation length and growth, but still in the top 1pc for marbling fineness, 4pc for marbling score, and top 1pc for carcase weight.
"With Bond, there's not a lot of growth compared to United, but he's the best in the breed for marbling score and marbling fineness."
Breeders all over the world are prepared to pay good money for high quality genetics, Mr Cornell said.
"With a bull like Bond we're looking at $500 a dose, which is aggressive, but not over the top. My US associates told me I was stupid, expecting too much, but the first shipment sold, and in the next shipment we doubled the quantity - that was sold in three weeks and we'll have a third shipment."
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ABS Australia now has 72pc of the domestic market for Wagyu semen and 96pc of the export market, based on the National Herd Improvement Association of Australia annual survey.
The business currently has seven Wagyu sires, and plans to expand the offering, but Mr Cornell has particularly qualities he's looking for to meet demand from different areas.
"The Wagyu over the European dairy cow to produce a first-cross animal is becoming very desirable, so they're after that high carcase animal, and on other markets like Brazil, where they're going over the native Nelore cow, which has high survivability and low growth, putting a Wagyu over them takes them from being a carcase of little merit to great merit in one joining," he said.
"Because they want Wagyus with as much growth as possible, Longford and United are extremely popular there.
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"Longford might be in the bottom for marbling and marbling fineness, but he's giving them a heap of growth and still improving the carcase of the Nelore.
"With the current wide range of bulls covering global environments and pricing structures there are Wagyu genetics for all cattle producers.
"The rest of the world is watching us put science behind the Wagyu and the thirst for sires with accurate EBVs and genomic testing is insatiable, because we've got the science to demonstrate what these genetics can do."