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Food, fibre and pharmaceuticals from animals

Genetics of heifer puberty in two tropical beef genotypes in northern Australia and associations with heifer- and steer-production traits

D. J. Johnston A B F , S. A. Barwick A B , N. J. Corbet A C , G. Fordyce A D , R. G. Holroyd A E , P. J. Williams A C and H. M. Burrow A F
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Cooperative Research Centre for Beef Genetic Technologies, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

B Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit1, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

C CSIRO Livestock Industries, Rockhampton, Qld 4702, Australia.

D Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Charters Towers, Qld 4820, Australia.

E Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Rockhampton, Qld 4702, Australia.

F Corresponding author. Email:

Animal Production Science 49(6) 399-412
Submitted: 11 November 2008  Accepted: 17 February 2009   Published: 13 May 2009


A total of 2115 heifers from two tropical genotypes (1007 Brahman and 1108 Tropical Composite) raised in four locations in northern Australia were ovarian-scanned every 4–6 weeks to determine the age at the first-observed corpus luteum (CL) and this was used to define the age at puberty for each heifer. Other traits recorded at each time of ovarian scanning were liveweight, fat depths and body condition score. Reproductive tract size was measured close to the start of the first joining period. Results showed significant effects of location and birth month on the age at first CL and associated puberty traits. Genotypes did not differ significantly for the age or weight at first CL; however, Brahman were fatter at first CL and had a small reproductive tract size compared with that of Tropical Composite. Genetic analyses estimated the age at first CL to be moderately to highly heritable for Brahman (0.57) and Tropical Composite (0.52). The associated traits were also moderately heritable, except for reproductive tract size in Brahmans (0.03) and for Tropical Composite, the presence of an observed CL on the scanning day closest to the start of joining (0.07). Genetic correlations among puberty traits were mostly moderate to high and generally larger in magnitude for Brahman than for Tropical Composite. Genetic correlations between the age at CL and heifer- and steer-production traits showed important genotype differences. For Tropical Composite, the age at CL was negatively correlated with the heifer growth rate in their first postweaning wet season (–0.40) and carcass marbling score (–0.49), but was positively correlated with carcass P8 fat depth (0.43). For Brahman, the age at CL was moderately negatively genetically correlated with heifer measures of bodyweight, fatness, body condition score and IGF-I, in both their first postweaning wet and second dry seasons, but was positively correlated with the dry-season growth rate. For Brahman, genetic correlations between the age at CL and steer traits showed possible antagonisms with feedlot residual feed intake (–0.60) and meat colour (0.73). Selection can be used to change the heifer age at puberty in both genotypes, with few major antagonisms with steer- and heifer-production traits.

Additional keywords: beef, fertility, puberty, ultrasound, heritability, genetic correlations.


The authors acknowledge the Cooperative Research Centre for Cattle and Beef Quality (and its core partners; The University of New England, NSW Department of Primary Industries, CSIRO and Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries), the Commonwealth funding through the CRC’s Program, and the generous financial support of Meat and Livestock Australia and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). We acknowledge the tremendous contributions of the Australian Agricultural Co., C&R Briggs, Consolidated Pastoral Co., North Australian Pastoral Co., Stanbroke Pastoral Co., J&SM Halbersater, GE&J McCamley, S Kidman & Co., MDH, and the research stations of AgForce Queensland and QDPI&F. We also gratefully acknowledge all Beef CRC participants, both scientists and technical staff, who contributed to or supported the work, including those involved in cattle management, data collection, laboratory analyses and data handling. We especially acknowledge the contributions of Mick Sullivan, Matt Wolcott, Warren Sim, Peggy Olsson, Tracy Longhurst, Trudy Obst, Steve O’Connor, Russ Tyler, Neil Cooper, Graeme Halford and Andrew McCann.


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1 Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit is a joint venture of New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and the University of New England.

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