21 January 2000

Brazil seeking better genetics to build for profitable future

BRAZILIAN beef producers are trying to improve genetics, and by 2020 will be running 200m cattle producing high quality beef at low cost and grossing US $45bn-$48bn.

That prediction came from Ian Hall, an Englishman who manages a 10,000ha (24,700-acre) farm in San Paulo state running 26,800 cattle as well as producing sugar cane, forage and arable crops.

The estate runs Nelore cattle – which are native to India – Hereford, Brafords and composites across its pastureland.

Mr Hill told delegates that his objectives were to maximise herd yield and increase carcass quality, and then sell the genetics to other producers. "We want to identify animals with marketable qualities and multiply them."

Achieving this depends on using technology such as BLUP, extensive use of AI and carrying out ET using superior cows.

"We want to produce cows who will produce one calf a year, which will be at least 50% of her own bodyweight at weaning. We also want calves born within a 60-day period, during the same period each year, and at least 99% of pregnant cows to breed."

Selection on Mr Halls unit is based on eight parameters; fertility, liveweight gain, conformation, finishing, muscling, scrotal perimeter, birth weight and age at first calving.

In the Nelore herd, the key aim is to reduce the average age at first calving; this has fallen from 37 months to 28 months after seven years of work, said Mr Hill.

"We are searching for animals with early sexual maturity, which is likely to mean they grow faster and finish earlier."

For Nelore cattle destined for beef, this means identifying how quickly they can reach set liveweights, and this method has identified big differences between animals – in one example, this amounted to 151 days.

All the estates Nelore cattle are individually recorded from birth to slaughter or throughout their breeding life. This data is analysed to obtain estimates for genetic values, which are then balanced to form either an all-encompassing performance index or indexes for weaning and performance at 550 days.

Performance testing has also allowed Mr Hill to start advertising stock for sale, capitalising on the fact that figures are available. He and other breeders pursuing the same aims have also lobbied government, and now herds with a genetic evaluation in the top 20% of herds are exempt from paying one form of tax, worth 17.5%.