Dehorning the national beef herd could save the industry millions of dollars a year.
Breeding the horns out of cattle
A discovery by CSIRO scientists has been central to the development of an accurate DNA test that may help the Australian cattle industry end the painful practice of dehorning beef cattle.
15 December 2010 | Updated 14 October 2011
Dehorning is routinely practiced by beef producers to prevent the significant injuries caused by cattle horns. These include bruising, hide damage and other injuries in yards, feedlots and during transport – and are estimated to cost the industry more than A$20 million a year. Horns can also injure stock handlers.
However, the dehorning procedure is labour-intensive and has implications for animal welfare. So, as an alternative to dehorning, researchers have developed a DNA marker test that will facilitate breeding of naturally hornless beef cattle.
The inheritance of horns is reasonably well understood in European Bos taurus cattle breeds, and DNA marker tests to predict polledness – the natural lack of horns – in these breeds are commercially available.
An effective DNA marker for polledness in these genetically complex Australian cattle breeds was identified by a team of CSIRO researchers.
However, these tests are not useful for Bos indicus and Bos indicus-crosses, which dominate the cattle population in northern Australia. Producers need a test that is validated in Australian breeds so they can make confident decisions when selecting animals for breeding.
An effective DNA marker for polledness in these genetically complex Australian cattle breeds was identified by a team of CSIRO researchers. The team was recognised for this work with the 2009 Australian Museum Eureka Prize for Scientific Research that Contributes to Animal Protection.
The DNA marker has proven successful in research trials conducted across Australia by the Co-operative Research Centre for Beef Genetic Technologies (Beef CRC), CSIRO and Meat & Livestock Australia, in collaboration with the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (a joint unit of Industry & Investment New South Wales and the University of New England).
The marker has been developed into a commercial test that was offered to the beef industry for validation in August 2010. This DNA test may help Australian beef producers breed the horns out of the national cattle herd.
Read more about the Beef CRC's commercial development of the Polled Gene Marker Test [external link].