Forty years ago, the Argentinians
were noted buyers of top quality
Aberdeen-Angus cattle from
Britain. Now, the tables have
turned, with the first calves
from embryos bought from
Argentina being born in
Perthshire. Emma Penny reports
FOR Argentinian breeders the Gutierrez family, being able to sell a bull at Perth bull sales would be a life-long dream come true. And it may come to fruition next year as cows on John McGregors Perthshire farm produce calves born from embryos imported from their farm.
Its a story that began when Mr McGregor visited Argentina, where he met famed Aberdeen- Angus breeder Horatio Gutierrez. "I realised hed been buying all the best bulls at the Perth sales in the 1960s. His cattle had tremendous length and very good back ends, especially the cows."
Realising that he couldnt bring the cows back to the UK, Mr McGregor decided to select cows he would like embryos from, and have them exported back to implant in cows at his 688ha (1700 acre) Binn Farm, near Glenfarg.
But exporting the 44 embryos was a far more complicated process than anyone realised – mainly due to politics, says Mr McGregor.
"We had arranged to bring the embryos out of the country, but two days before they were due to be transported we couldnt get a signature on a document giving EC approval for them to be imported. The only option was to speak to our Euro MP Jim Provan. Once wed done that we managed to get a signature within two to three weeks."
Drawing out the process didnt help when the embryos arrived in the UK. Recipient heifers had been on a rising plane of nutrition to ensure successful implantation. By the time the embryos arrived and were implanted, they were just too fat. That meant that of the 20 embryos implanted, only 50% held. However, implanting recipient cows had a better success rate, with 72% holding.
Now, recipient cows are calving at Binn Farm, with nine heifers and eight bulls already on the ground. A key difference has been ease of calving, and how quickly calves have been on their feet and suckling, says the farms stockman Stuart Bett.
"I was quite sceptical about the calves, but they were easy calving. They werent big calves, but were up on their feet and sucking within 10 minutes, and theyre strong and hardy, with a strong survival instinct – they seem to be different calves to the Aberdeen- Anguses we breed in the UK."
Both Mr McGregor and his son Allan are pleased with the calves born so far, and admit they are better looking than the calves they saw in Argentina.
However, they are unwilling to predict how they will perform. According to Allan, if the heifers are good they will be flushed rather than sold. But a few bulls may be sold at Perth in February 2002 if they turn out well.
For Mr Gutierrez and his family, who have retained a half share in 10 calves, selling bulls at Perth would mean their Tres Marias herd had come full circle. The family currently sell 150 pedigree Aberdeen-Angus and 300 pure control bulls (Livestock, June 9) each year to producers throughout South America.
The farm is also renowned for its success at Palermo show – the biggest livestock show in Argentina – but the driving force behind all breeding decisions is that their Aberdeen-Angus cattle must perform well off grass alone, explains Francisco Gutierrez.
"In Argentina we need to look for cattle which work well at grass. We need low birthweights as cows must calve by themselves, and we need to produce calves which have high rates of liveweight gain."
Easy fleshing is vital for commercial producers as 90-95% of steers are finished at grass in Argentina. Thats one reason why Argentinian Aberdeen-Angus cattle have retained their national supremacy over imported US-bred cattle, which are traditionally finished on grain and therefore harder to finish at grass, says Mr Gutierrez.
Besides easy fleshing, bulls must also have good legs and locomotion in order to work successfully. They must be deep, long and with good muscling. However, he believes that the Aberdeen-Angus is still dominant in Argentina – where 70% of cattle have Aberdeen-Angus blood – because it is a moderate animal.
"Its not extreme; its not the tallest, widest or longest breed, but it is useful and will suit most markets."
The family is seeking to breed animals which have high rates of liveweight gain, so performance of all calves is recorded. This also helps assess which bulls are performing best on cows at Tres Marias, says Mr Gutierrez.
"We use a small amount of semen from US-bred bulls to see how they perform here, and it helps introduce some new genetics too. However, rather than use a popular bull, we will use semen from the best of his sons, and will use it on cows with proven performance records which are in our embryo transfer programme.
"If we like the calves, we will keep the heifers and the best bull; if we dont we will sell them."
Embryo transfer is an important part of building up successful bloodlines at Tres Marias, and its also a vital part of their business, with more than 1000 embryos sold off the farm each year. It has also allowed the family to enter into joint ventures in both Brazil and Scotland by retaining half shares in some of the embryos.
"Embryo transfer is important for our business as we can sell the embryo and not the cow. We sell half of those embryos to pedigree breeders within Argentina, 30-35% to Brazil and 15% to Paraguay, Columbia and Venezuela. But weve sent our best genetics to Scotland, and were going to visit Scotland to see the results next year." *
Left: Argentine Aberdeen-Angus bulls must work well and perform on forage, say
the Gutierrez family
(above l-r) Francisco, Horacio and Johnny.
Below: The first calves
born from imported Argentinian embryos
at John McGregors
• Calves on ground in Scotland.
• Different breeding objectives.
• Perth bull sales in 2002?