Breeding and Reproduction

The importance of selection of beef cattle for beef quantity and quality were realised early in the development of the nation’s beef industry. As discussed earlier the initial cattle primarily originated from overlanding from New South Wales. Kennedy(Kennedy MJ, Hauling the Loads: A history of Australia’s working horses and bullocks, Central Queensland University Press, 2005) explains that the first fleet to Sydney took on cattle at Cape Colony, namely 2 bulls and 5 cows, and they found cattle thrived in the colony (but escaped!). By 1800 numbers had increased to 1044 cattle and by 1820 to 50,000 head. Cape Colony imports were small black horned cattle with humped shoulders of Dutch and African origin. Later some came from India (Bombay) with buffalo infusion, these were large framed heavy boned animals and good for draught work. NSW Governors were criticised from England about building up a bullock herd rather than using them for meat. In the 1820’s in NSW, cattle were more important than wool. In 1810 there were 4853 cattle and 2914 oxen for draught. Earliest English imports were a pair of Poll Suffolk bulls and in the 1820’s cross breeding was used to improve the quality with imports of Durham, Scotch Galloways, Argyles, and West Highland. These crossbred bullocks had 1400lb carcases and were three times the size of the original black Cape Colony imports. Breed debates occurred regarding the Bengal type versus the more recently imported crosses of Durham, Shorthorn and Hereford which eventually prevailed. These various imports which found their way to SA in the late 1830’s formed the basis for South Australian stud and commercial herds.

Show societies developed in local towns, and Adelaide and provided opportunities for breeders to exhibit their animals and provide an opportunity for producers to discuss the attributes of the various breeds and individual animals. Of particular prominence has been the annual Royal Adelaide Show initiated by the SA Agricultural Society which had been formed in 1839 and later the Royal Agricultural & Horticultural Society (RAHS). Extensive information relating to the RAHS is available at their Archives Centre at the Wayville show grounds. It has had a large influence on showing of different breeds since the 1840’s. Similarly the annual SA Stud Beef Field Days have been highly successful means for breeders to display their cattle.  “Ideal” beef types and popularity of breeds fluctuated over the years with fashion, markets and the type of country having an influence.

George Fife Angas can be considered the father of the State’s pure bred beef industry in that, as Chairman of the South Australian Company, (they had 1,160 cattle by 1841) imported some of the best blood to build up the herds.(Pastoral Pioneers of South Australia Vol 1, Publishers Limited, P75, 1925) This included a son (Young Comet) of the “celebrated Durham bull Comet which became one of the leading progenitors of a strain absolutely unequalled in the Southern hemisphere”. The Company’s fortunes prospered but in 1849 they had to resort to slaughtering cattle for tallow which, when exported to England, encountering a very dull market. Following this the Company dispersed its livestock enterprise because its primary object was not to exploit the pastoral industry but to foster it. GF Angas settled in SA in 1851 and in conjunction with his son JH Angas, proceeded to develop a substantial pastoral empire in his own right.

From his earliest years in the colony JH Angas, like many of the early pastoralists, had made a point of buying high quality stock, mostly imported from England. For him it was not only a matter of making money or winning renown as one of South Australia's foremost stud-breeders, but also of helping the colony by raising the general standard of livestock. He spent a fortune importing bulls and among the animals bred by him were Shorthorns and Herefords “sweeping the boards in the Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney shows”(Pastoral Pioneers of South Australia Vol 1, Publishers Limited, P75, 1925).

A biography of JH Angas in Pascoe’s “History of Adelaide and Vicinity” notes that he had established large cooperative dairies and had as many as 500 milking cows “the progeny of which, from imported and pure pedigree shorthorn cattle were carefully reared and transferred to the northern runs, thus not only improving their breeding, but making the cattle remarkably quiet and docile”. (Neumann GB & Curran GC, A Review of the Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Campaign in Pastoral Areas of South Australia; SA Department of Agriculture Technical Report 42, 1983) O'Neill, 'Angas, John Howard (1823 - 1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol  3, Melbourne University Press, 1969, pp 36-38.)

The risk of importing Foot and Mouth Disease resulted in a number of import bans over the years which were relinquished if the overseas outbreak was eradicated.  For a long period no cattle were allowed into Australia but semen was allowed to be imported from England in 1969. See article on quarantine (1872- 1929)
No attempt in this document has been made to detail the development of the different breeds of beef cattle in South Australia as these are available from the various breed society branches in the State.

With the increase in government investment in research and extension in the 1970’s, combined with the introduction of the European breeds, beef producers experimented widely with crossbreeding and new European blood lines. The increased knowledge of genetics and growth parameters resulted in the development of Breedplan, a national system of objectively measuring the breeding potential of cattle. This led on to breeding indices, and combined with subjective assessment allowed beef breeders to select animals suitable for specific markets and fecundity.