SBTS news

Second Round of ‘Recording for BREEDPLAN’ Short Videos Released

The Southern Beef Technology Services (SBTS) and Tropical Beef Technology Services (TBTS) projects are pleased to announce the release today of seven short videos for the ‘Recording for BREEDPLAN’ video series. Ranging from three to six minutes in length, each video gives a short overview of the methods and considerations when recording performance information for BREEDPLAN traits. Today’s videos compliment the 12 ‘Recording for BREEDPLAN’ videos that were released in August 2020.

The seven videos released today are:

  1. Recording Mature Cow Weights
  2. Recording Docility Scores
  3. Recording Flight Time
  4. Recording Buffalo Fly Lesion Scores
  5. Recording Coat Scores
  6. Recording Tick Scores
  7. Recording Structural Soundness Information

SBTS Technical Officer, Catriona Millen, said that while there are a number of written resources on recording performance data for BREEDPLAN (e.g. the BREEDPLAN Tip Sheets), some people prefer to receive information via visual or audio means. “In developing the ‘Recording for BREEDPLAN’ videos, we wanted to provide a visual learning tool that will complement the existing written documentation”.

It is also anticipated that the ‘Recording for BREEDPLAN’ short videos will be of use to beef producers who wish to quickly refresh their knowledge around recording a particular trait. “Breeders may watch the relevant video before heading out to the yards to collect that trait,” she said.

All ‘Recording for BREEDPLAN’ short videos are available via:

  • The searchable Help Centre on the BREEDPLAN website, and,
  • A dedicated playlist on the SBTS & TBTS YouTube channel.

The SBTS & TBTS team wish to thank the following studs who provided photos and video footage for use in the ‘Recording for BREEDPLAN’ video series: Glendale Gelbvieh and Red Angus Stud, Gyranda Santa Gertrudis Stud, Seifert Belmont Reds, Vix Devons and Wirruna Poll Herefords.


ABRI Building

Half a Century of Big Data for Software Pioneer

A Big Data pioneer and licence-holder of the world’s most widely used livestock performance analysis software, the Agricultural Business Research Institute (ABRI) is celebrating 50 years of operation.

Established at the University of New England (UNE) by Arthur Rickards in 1970 (and a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University ever since), ABRI has been an integral part of Australia’s beef cattle performance analysis program since 1972.

ABRI’s pioneering approach to digitisation of livestock performance records, which in 1972 became the basis of the BREEDPLAN recording program (launched in 1985) is now supporting livestock development in 15 countries.

ABRI’s work in digitising records and using the power of the computer for analysis was well ahead of its time. In 1972, computing was in its infancy. The Apollo spacecraft that first took men to the moon in 1969 – only a few years before ABRI started digitising livestock records – carried a computer guidance module that was about 100,000 times less powerful than a typical smartphone today.

“No-one else in the world has been doing what ABRI has been doing for 50 years,” said the Institute’s Managing Director, Hugh Nivison.

“ABRI software led the world in 1972, and it still leads now, even though we have much more competition. The work that was done for the beef industry 50 years ago built a platform for innovation and value that has revolutionised not just the cattle industry, but livestock industries across the world.”

Before BREEDPLAN, the only way to assess the worth of a bull was to look at it and make educated guesses about its traits, or to draw on a breeder’s hand-written records.

ABRI built a system that drew on objective measurements of how a bull’s offspring performed, then fed those measurements into a computer to build a comparison of how the calves thrown by a bull compared with the calves of all the other bulls in the database.

Farmers had been keeping their own similar records for centuries, but digitisation meant that many more records could be analysed, at a greater level of complexity. It was an example of “Big Data” analysis decades before the term Big Data was invented.

“At first, BREEDPLAN only allowed comparisons within a herd,” Mr Nivison said. “Then it expanded to allow comparisons across all animals within a breed, then across breeds, and now we run performance comparisons internationally.”

The more data used in a Big Data analysis, the more accurate the results. After 50 years of data collection, across millions of animals, across an ever-expanding list of traits, BREEDPLAN is working with billions of data points and delivering results that ABRI could only have dreamed about in 1972.

“We can now be very confident that those using the BREEDPLAN are delivering animals within known performance parameters,” Mr Nivison said.

“It’s a form of genetic engineering, except that it drives a managed evolution of livestock so that they express their traits in ways that are increasingly useful to humans.”

Big Data changing cattle A seedstock animal born in 1985 had an average genetic merit of $18.80 (an economic measure of a cow’s value per cow joined), whereas a seedstock animal born in 2019 had an average genetic merit of $88.20 (per cow joined, not adjusted for inflation). This equates to just under a $70 improvement in average genetic merit for Australian seedstock beef cattle since BREEDPLAN first started in 1985.

 An innovation platform built on data

The BREEDPLAN platform developed within ABRI has been used to underpin other pioneering initiatives.

The Animal Genetics Breeding Unit (AGBU), established at UNE in 1976 to support ABRI with research and development, took on development of the BREEDPLAN software (with ABRI as the licence holder) and has become a world leader in livestock genetics in its own right. AGBU’s work in genetic selection technologies has added an estimated $1.18 billion in value to the beef and sheep sectors, and the other animal and plant industries it works with.

Sheep Genetics, built on similar technology, works for the wool and sheepmeat industries as BREEDPLAN works for the beef industries. The multi-decade collaborations of the Beef and Sheep Cooperative Research Centres, which produced transformational livestock research, were in part made possible because of ABRI and AGBU.

ABRI also develops and distributes a number of other software packages, including programs for diary herd recording, export certification of livestock and most recently, equine event management.

The Institute was the invention of the late Arthur Rickards, who was Executive Officer of UNE’s Farm Management Service Centre from 1967.

Mr (later Dr) Rickards observed how the farming community was keen to adopt the new agricultural technologies being developed at UNE, but that an infrastructure gap prevented easy knowledge transfer between research and application.

Into this gap Mr Rickards placed ABRI, which opened for business at UNE on 1 July, 1970.

In 1972, ABRI was announced as the operator of Australia’s National Beef Recording Scheme (NBRS). At a speech given shortly before his death in 2019, Dr Rickards cheerfully admitted that it was preposterous that his three-person outfit should have been handed such immense responsibility.

Fifty years later, with the work of ABRI’s 70 employees underpinning Australia’s world-class beef industry, the decision to hand that responsibility to an upstart startup has withstood the test of time.

Credit: UNE Media. 


ABRI Implements Single Step Genomic TBLUP (GTBLUP) to Support Large Number of Genotypes for Genetic Evaluation

No strangers to innovation, Agricultural Business Research Institute (ABRI) have become one of the world’s first users of the Single Step Genomic TBLUP (Best Linear Unbiased Prediction) (GTBLUP) method, which allows for an almost unconstrained use of genomic data in calculating Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs).  The implementation within BREEDPLAN addresses the challenges faced by increasing rates of genotyping for ABRI clients and was made possible through developments at the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU) led by Principal Scientist Dr. Vinzent Boerner. 

ABRI’s genetics research and development manager Dr Brad Crook explains “the issue that has evolved from increasing rates of genotyping is that when the number of genotyped individuals exceeds the number of Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) in the genotype used, the process of evaluation does not always function properly”.

This issue is not exclusive to BREEDPLAN, rather an industry-wide problem, regardless of service provider. Yet, each provider approaches this constraint in different ways. Some do this by using a small number of SNPs and changing the model to a quite simple one. Others seek to keep the full genotypes, but reduce the genotypes used to priority animals in the evaluation.

The GTBLUP method has been implemented by BREEDPLAN to keep all the SNPs and all the genotyped animals, in a way that seems to be unlimited in its capability.  Dr Stephen Miller, AGBU deputy director explains the significance of this milestone “the implementation of genomics has been the biggest development in livestock breeding around the world in recent decades.  The increase in the rate of genotyping in beef cattle, including Angus cattle in this case is truly remarkable.  Equipping industry with the latest technology to best harness the power of these new genotyping technologies is something AGBU is quite proud of with the launch of GTBLUP within BREEDPLAN.” 

In a test case scenario of around 400,000 genotypes and 50K SNPs per genotype, AGBU was able to demonstrate that the GTBLUP method was not only computationally feasible but was able to outperform other Single Step approaches in terms of processing times and computational costs.

AGBU made GTBLUP available within BREEDPLAN in October 2020 and ABRI has implemented the technology for the Trans-Tasman Angus Cattle Evaluation.  With GTBLUP available within BREEDPLAN, ABRI is capable of servicing any breeding organization regardless of the number of genotypes and number of animals.  ABRI have embraced GTBLUP to maintain their position at the forefront of providers for genetic evaluations.

This is an exciting opportunity for the inclusion of substantial amounts of genomic data in BREEDPLAN multi-trait evaluations. To find out more about GTBLUP and BREEDPLAN please contact the ABRI team.



Outstanding Progress by Hungarian Charolais

The National Association of Hungarian Charolais Cattle Breeders is the ABRI’s first central European BREEDPLAN client to make use of the BREEDPLAN genetic evaluation system for their national population. In addition, they are the first central European client to make use of ABRI’s genomic data storage system with a goal of incorporating this genomic information into a Single-Step BREEDPLAN evaluation.

The investment made by Hungarian Charolais breeders in the genotyping of seedstock animals has resulted in them having the fifth largest genomic database hosted by ABRI among ABRI’s BREEDPLAN clients, globally. To add to their investment in successful breeding, the National Association of Hungarian Charolais Cattle Breeders released three economic indexes using BreedObject v6.2 earlier this year.

ABRI are thrilled to pursue this collaboration with the National Association of Hungarian Charolais Cattle Breeders and continue to pursue ongoing research and development throughout the European beef breeding industry.  


ABRI & CSIRO Develop Next Gen LIP

The Livestock Information Platform (LIP) is a secure cloud-based tool that enables the rapid development of information systems to store and analyse animal production, breeding, health, and welfare data.

LIP was created to address an industry-wide issue, for many primary producers who gather phenotype and productivity information on-farm. Producers collate this data with on farm software systems, to produce reports and make decisions about farm management accordingly. However, productivity performance is also affected by other factors that are not readily captured in a form that is able to provide additional value for the producer, such as weather information, and carcase feedback.

The solution? ABRI, together with the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), have designed and built an internet “cloud” based system that supports a data storage and analysis system optimised for the needs of the livestock industry.

Data can be uploaded, downloaded, and analysed using the applications that we provide, or third-party developers can develop their own applications, accessing the system via the LIP Gateway. Raw data can be efficiently processed within the platform itself.

The positive economic impact of LIP includes a significant shift in the way systems can be developed to address data collection, storage, and analysis of farm, corporate or industry data. As new applications are developed, LIP’s capabilities will also continue to grow.

If you’re interested, please get in touch to learn more about the tool and how it could sit behind your next data management project.


iCompete releases new SMS Functionality

ABRI’s cloud-based system of recording and retrieving equestrian information, iCompete, has a new SMS feature to offer new and existing clients. The SMS feature allows for societies to notify their members of upcoming draws on a bulk scale once event draws have been completed.

The SMS notification is customised for each member and includes event draw details such as round and horse name. For more information on the new SMS functionality, please get in touch with our friendly team!


Zanda McDonald Award Shortlist Announced

The Zanda McDonald award was created by the Platinum Primary Producer (PPP) Group to honour Zanda McDonald, a prominent identity within the Australian beef and livestock industry, who tragically lost his life in an accident on his cattle property in 2013. The award aims to recognise rising stars within the industry and support them in their future career development.

Just last month, the 2021 Zanda McDonald Award nominations were announced with our very own, Tim Emery, taking a spot on the shortlist of finalists.

Tim is a Technical Officer in the Tropical Beef Technology Services (TBTS) team and has been recognised by the panel of judges for his talent, passion, and contribution of work within the agriculture sector.

Tim will spend time with the panel before they make their final decision, with winners announced in March 2021.

Photo credit: