NORTHERN Australia's climate presents many challenges to a beef breeding operation and herd performance has lagged behind that of cattle in more temperate climates.
A large, four-year project to study the performance of more than 78,000 breeding females from 75 breeder herds across northern Australia is in its final phase of analysing data and already some interesting management tips are emerging.
The project, fondly known as CashCow, is the largest-ever female fertility project to be conducted in northern Australia.
Meat and Livestock Australia is funding the $2.3 million project that has drawn together leading beef scientists from a number of research organisations.
Professor Michael McGowan from the School of Veterinary Science at the University of Queensland has led the research team that includes scientists such as veterinary and QAAFI senior research fellow Geoffry Fordyce.
Dr Fordyce said the project had revealed new ways to measure female fertility that were much more accurate and useful than the traditional 'weaning rate' measure.
"Beef production efficiency, which is the kilograms of live weight produced annually per kilogram of cattle in the paddock, is the yardstick," he said.
The research has shown a cow's ability to re-conceive within four months of calving is critical to the reproductive performance of the herd.
Another critical factor is to minimise calf losses between conception and weaning.
For cows to be able to re-conceive within four months of calving they need to calve between October and June, have a body condition score of three or better at the time of pregnancy diagnosis, have access to sufficient phosphorus (in feed or supplements) during the wet season and sufficient protein in their diet late in the dry season.
Cows that did not raise a calf the previous year were also more likely not to re-conceive.
"When these conditions are met, cows across all land types perform at their best," he said.
"Obviously, there will always be differences in the performance of herds on different land types as the inherent production capability of the paddock will limit the breeder herd performance.
"The top 25% of herds are converting 80% of confirmed pregnancies into weaners." Two presentations by Dr Fordyce about the CashCow data can be found at futurebeef.com.au/resources/multimedia.