On the back of some of the best Angus genetics ever seen in Australia going under the hammer at last year's summer bull sales, South Australian Angus breeders are confident they will be upping the ante in 2021.
The Angus breed is the most popular, dominant and sought after by producers in temperate climates due to its high productivity, feed conversion efficiency, hardiness and ease of management due to excellent fertility and ease of calving.
To assess how well local breeders are improving for these key profit-driving traits, Angus Australia commissioned an analysis of the genetic merit of Angus bulls sold between 2015 and 2020.
This found that last year's sires had the best performing genetics available to local beef producers and other stakeholders throughout the supply chain.
The analysis was based on the TransTasman Angus Cattle Evaluation Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) and associated selection index values of Angus bulls listed in an online sale catalogue on the Angus Australia website with a selling date between June 1 and October 31 for each of the five years.
Compared to the 2016 bulls, the 2020 offering had an average Angus Breeding Index (ABI) value that was $14 more profitable per female mated.
This translated to an average improvement in the genetic merit of Angus bulls of $3.44/female mated per year across the past five years - which was estimated to be worth $1050 from an average bull purchased in 2020, compared to a bull bought in 2016.
Most of the improved profitability was achieved due to an increase in the genetic performance for growth, while holding birth weight. This resulted in improved calving ease and a heavier carcase weight at a given age.
Improvements in the genetics for eating quality were also noted in the analysis, highlighting the continued commitment of Angus breeders to improved meat marbling.
Angus Australia breed development and extension manager, Andrew Byrne, said the genetic improvements in Angus bulls offered for sale in the period 2015 to 2020 mirrored the annual rate of genetic improvement in the Angus seedstock sector.
He said this now out-paced the rate of progress in the early to mid-2000s.
"The genetic improvement in the Angus breed nationally - and in SA - is the result of the commitment of Angus seedstock breeders to the use of technology in their breeding programs," he said.
As well as using the latest reproductive and - more recently - genomic technologies available, Angus breeders are also committed to performance recording.
"Investments by Angus seedstock breeders in performance recording and genomics is improving the accuracy with which the genetics of Angus breeding animals are described," Mr Byrne said.
"This helps bull buyers identify animals with superior genetics for use in Angus breeding programs."
Mr Byrne said recording traditional breeding traits, such as birth weight, 200, 400 and 600-day weight, scrotal circumference and live animal ultrasound measurements, remained high.
But he said in recent years, there had also been a marked increase in recording of traits such as docility and mature body composition.
Bull buyers are encouraged to look at this objective trait performance data, as well as the overall structure of their sires, when attending sales this year and choose those that best suit their local climate, environment and individual production system.
After the highly unusual 2020 bull selling season due to COVID-19 restrictions across SA at the start of last year, it is likely sales will be back to the "new normal" this year when auctions get underway in earnest during February.
Many studs were able to successfully run online sales last year, allowing them to still have on-property events while complying with the pandemic-related rules and regulations.
But they are looking forward to seeing clients in person this year, according to Angus Australia SA State Committee chairman Brad Lucas.
"Bull sale values were very strong last year due to the good season experienced by many areas of the state and strong cattle prices in all market segments," he said.
"Growers planned to mate higher numbers and, with another successful Angus Week in 2020, this helped to push values up and boost sale clearance rates by 7 per cent.
In SA there were 814 Angus bulls offered last year and 768 sold to an average price of $7341/head, which was up by $650/head from 2019. Several sires fetched more than $20,000.
Mr Lucas said sentiment on-the-ground was very buoyant going into the 2021 Angus bull selling season.
He said this was due to exceptional weaner sale results in December and January, high levels of spring and summer rainfall in some areas, continued favorable pasture growth and strong ongoing demand for cattle from finishers, feedlotters and processors.
"I think this year we are likely to see a lot of interest in Angus sires from right across SA, including the northern parts of the state, and from interstate as producers continue to restock," he said.
"The season in SA's lower and upper south eastern regions - and in parts of the north - has been particularly good, and growers in these areas appear to be well set up for grazing and cropping in 2021.
"Weaners have been selling to huge highs, feedlotters are very active and heavier steers are also fetching good prices.
"All of these market factors look like they will persist for some time, which adds to confidence levels.
"It is really a magic time to be involved in Angus breeding and production, and to be in the agricultural industry in general."
Mr Lucas said in other good news for Angus bull suppliers, many graziers had been building-up female numbers in recent years as they sought to expand their breeding herds.
"This trend is expected to continue," he said.
"And there are ongoing efforts by all in the industry to continue improving genetics to keep driving up productivity and profits.
"There are bulls available this year with top quality genetics that will suit all breeding programs and environments.
"We expect the coming selling season will be a strong one, following on from high weaner steer and heifer prices - and solid values for older cattle - in early 2021 sales, and the improved seasonal conditions across most states."
Mr Lucas said Angus Australia had been forced to put some of its SA-based activities on hold during 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But he said he hoped it would be business as usual in 2021, with bull sales back to face-to-face events and more Angus Youth activities planned.
The story Signs positive for Angus breed as stud bull sales kick into gear first appeared on Stock Journal.