29 May 2018, 6:30 a.m.
WITHIN ten years it will likely be illegal to dehorn cattle, certainly not without veterinary supervision, experienced breeders and cattle vets believe.
The opinion was expressed at this year’s Australian Wagyu Association conference and has found consensus further afield.
Even among those seedstock operators who believe such a decision would be ill-informed and detrimental to productivity increases in the Australian herd, there is still agreement it is the way things are headed.
For the Wagyu breed, it means it’s time to drop the fascination with fullblood, says pedigree expert Barbara Roberts-Thomson, who has 20 years of Japanese black and red Wagyu breeding to her name.
She says consumers want a good beef eating experience and to know cattle have been raised kindly and humanely.
“If we put dehorned on our brand’s box, people will eat fish,” she said.
“It is unreasonable to think we can go on breeding cattle we will have to dehorn.”
Germany had already passed laws making dehorning illegal, she said.
There were now 300 poll cattle in the Wagyu herd book, with the first homozygous polled bulls available this year.
Purebred polls with as high marbling as we can get is the future for Wagyu, Ms Roberts-Thomson believes.
“It’s we who taught our customers to want fullblood, so we have to now teach them to want Australian purebred polled Wagyu,” she said.
Wagyu industry pioneer and veterinarian Dr Simon Coates said polls could perform as well as fullblood but the shift would mean Australian Wagyu producers had to accept “these cattle will never be fullblood in the eyes of the Japanese.”
He told a story of a magnificent bull which was 99.9 percent pure Wagyu, which caused his Japanese importer client to drop his price by half.
Truth in labelling in Japan meant 100pc fullblood, he said.
Still, there was no doubt polled was the track the industry would need to take, he said.
“When I first went into practice 43 years ago, we’d take the tails off dogs as puppies - if vets do that today they go to jail,” he said.
President of the Australian Veterinary Association cattle group Dr Alan Guilfoyle said where beef was concerned, the world was demanding clean, green and high welfare standards.
The push toward poll was strong and was happening purely on welfare concerns to eliminate the need to dehorn, he said.
In the interim, techniques and products had evolved enormously to cater for welfare where horning takes place, according to Dr Guilfoyle.
“There are some very good pain relief measures on the market today and mostly what occurs is disbudding (the removal of horn-producing cells in calves),” he said.
Horned cattle breeders say any move towards a ban would come at the expense of both productivity and marketing advantages.
Prominent NSW Hereford and Poll Hereford breeder Geoff Bush, Kirraweena Glenholme at Cootamundra, said there had been a big swing back towards horned genetics in the past 18 months for productivity traits because breeders recognised the advantages.
The simple fact was “when you single trait select for homozygous polls something has to give - you might lose some traits and typically they are doing ability, fertility, maternal traits and bone size,” he said.
“We have been breeding polls for 20 years and when things get tough, they are the first to start falling apart.”
His horned cows regularly top Forbes sales, so claims of an inability to market were not right, he said.
Done correctly, using the animal welfare guidelines particularly under the age recommendations, dehorning was not cruel, he said.
“We started dehorning steers to fit the feedlot market about 30 years ago and we have never had any issue - we’ve certainly never lost an animal,” Mr Bush said.
“We also never had a problem with bruising or hide damage before that. It’s more about how you handle livestock, your management and not mixing mobs.”
The just-released update of the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework shows 51pc of cows and 71pc of bulls in the national herd now have the poll gene.
Animal husbandry techniques, including horn removal, castration, branding and ear marking, is one of the framework’s six priority areas, with the aim being to find alternatives to invasive practices and where practical administer pain relief.
Sustainability steering group chair Bryce Camm said the framework was not a policy platform - it was about measuring and discussing with all stakeholders what concerns are and what is being done in those areas.
There was probably more concern within industry than among outside stakeholders around husbandry techniques such as dehorning causing an issue in time to come, Mr Camm said.
“We are proactively demonstrating an awareness of society’s expectations around these issues and getting ahead of the curve,” he said.