Advances in science mean a historic collection of bull semen is no longer required by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, and will now be auctioned to raise money for the charities Drought Angels, the Queensland Country Women’s Association and Beyond Blue.

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The genetic material from a range of rare cattle breeds, including one named after a former CSIRO site, offers breeding societies and producers the chance to bring back some of the older breeds whose genetic stock isn’t readily available anymore.

The samples were gathered in the 1980s and 90s, meaning another generation of Gen X and Gen Y cattle could be born in the next few years.

CSIRO began cattle genetics and breeding research in the 1950s for the Australian beef industry, at a time when animals had to be bred to be studied. Now, these studies can take place at the genetic level.

Since the completion of the cattle genome sequence in 2009, research into selective breeding and improving cattle herd genetics has moved into the digital age with observational studies, statistical imputation and machine learning replacing the much slower and more expensive traditional methods.

CSIRO livestock geneticist Dr Sigrid Lehnert said most of the samples are from hybrid species developed by crossing tropical breeds, known as Bos indicus, with the traditional British Bos taurus breeds.

"CSIRO was the first in Australia to blend multiple British and African-sourced cattle breeds to create 'tropical composite' cattle that were more heat tolerant and tick resistant and therefore better suited to our climates," Dr Lehnert said.

"With the new genetics we were instrumental in helping the livestock industry improve and diversify the genetic quality of the national herd.

"CSIRO works closely with rural communities to build drought resilience, but in addition to our scientific innovation we also wanted to do something to help out charities supporting people on the land during this tough time."

Australia's first tropical composite breed, the Belmont Red, was bred at - and named after - CSIRO's former cattle research station at Belmont in Central Queensland.

In addition to the Belmont Red, there is semen on offer at the auction from Tuli, Brahman, Adaptaur, Red Angus, Afrikaner, Simbrah, Charbray and other breeds.

"We can't guarantee that the semen is still viable after all this time and unfortunately we have no genetic information on the bulls," Dr Lehnert said.

Nearly 5000 'straws' of semen are on offer. Breeding societies and cattle farmers can visit Auctions Plus  to check lots and place bids. The auction is open 27-29 November 2019.

The funds raised will go to charities that help rural communities. Beef Breeding Services, where the semen has been stored for several decades, the online livestock auction house, Auctions Plus, and SBB/GDL, the participating livestock agent, are all donating their services to help as much of the funds raised get to charity as possible.

Fast facts

  • CSIRO is auctioning an historic collection of bull semen from mainly tropical and 'tropical composite' cattle breeds, collected in the 1980s and 90s
  • The breeds include Australia's first 'tropical composite' breed, the Belmont Red, as well as Tuli, Brahman, Adaptaur, Red Angus, Afrikaner, Simbrah and Charbray
  • The auction is open 27 – 29 November
  • Visit Auctions Plus for more information and to bid
  • It will give cattle producers the chance to access some older breeds whose genetic material isn't readily available anymore

The viability of the semen is not guaranteed and no genetic data about the bulls is known.

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