Crafting the cattle of tomorrow with genetic expert Matt Johnson

Crafting the cattle of tomorrow with genetic expert Matt Johnson

In a compelling discussion with Matt Johnson, GM of Focus Genetics, joins Dom George to delve into the innovative world of livestock genetics and its impact on the future of farming. 

Johnson, who comes from a dairy operational background, discusses his transition to leading Focus Genetics, a subsidiary of the parent company Parmu, and sheds light on the genetic advancements in cattle, sheep, and deer breeding programs that Focus Genetics is spearheading. 

"We've had a history of having black cattle out on hill station farms... and there's a large move from PAMU specifically in this, but it's also industry-wide around the dairy beef." 

He underscores the aim to produce a dairy beef breed, known as the stabiliser breed, to address the issue of bobby calves and to ensure that the cattle are easy to rear, trouble-free at birth, and add value through the finishing process. 

The conversation then shifts to the sheep program, where Focus Genetics is working on maternal and terminal breeds. Johnson emphasises the importance of productivity and disease resistance in maternal breeds such as the traditional Romney and the Highlander composite. 

As for the terminal breeds, Johnson takes pride in their Texel and Focus Prime composites.

"We've got 30 years of CT scanning looking at our carcass production, so our meat yield has been really important." 

An equally fascinating segment of the conversation is about deer breeding, a smaller but impactful area of their work. Johnson, visibly intrigued by the deer genetics program, mentions, "It's an impressive part of a genetics business," focusing on venison production. 

Throughout the conversation, the themes of climate change adaptation and sustainability are prevalent. Johnson talks about breeding for resilience and adapting to a changing climate, especially in sheep. 

He mentions the Sheep of the Future program, which is a collaboration with MPI and PAMU, focusing on breeding a no-wool or heat-stress tolerant sheep and developing measurement protocols for heat tolerance traits. 

The conversation also touches on the critical research and development initiatives with AgResearch, aiming to identify genetic markers for feed efficiency and lower methane emissions. 

"For us, the biggest relationship there is a palm-focused genetics project around methane reduction and feed conversion efficiency," Johnson states, underlining the significance of this research in reducing the environmental impact of livestock. 

Concluding the chat, Johnson reflects on the dairy genetics landscape and the challenges and opportunities ahead. He expresses a desire for a dairy cow that is efficient and excels in reproduction, hinting at the complex yet rewarding journey that lies ahead in livestock genetics.

Listen to the full chat between Matt Johnson and Dominic George above.

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