Southern Multi Breed (SMB) project

PhD Scholarships Available - Click for more information

Scholarship information

  • Valued of $28,854.00 per annum plus free tuition
  • Open to Australian or New Zealand citizens or  Australian Permanent Residents
  • Potential top up scholarships may be available


  • Beef cattle breeding and genetic evaluation requires high quality data for the estimation of breeding value
  • Cattle from different breeds need to be run in the same environments to underpin multi-breed breeding values
  • Key breeding objective traits need to recorded to enable balanced selection
  • Animals need to be DNA tested to build genomic reference populations

Suggested topic areas

  1. The genetics of female fertility – breeding cows to have more calves for longer
  2. Breeding and managing more environmentally resilient beef cattle – understanding methane, health, resilience and structural traits and their relationship with production
  3. Beef cattle feed and production system efficiency
  4. Using novel data collection methods to underpin data recording for selection and management of beef cattle
  5. Methods for multi-breed genomic and genetic evaluation in beef cattle
  6. Other beef cattle production topics in meat science, nutrition, health and welfare

Summary of the Southern Multi Breed Project

New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), the University of New England (UNE) and Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) have joined forces to create a resource population for multi-breed genomic evaluation in beef cattle, also known as the southern multi-breed project. This project aims to record thousands of beef cattle, from 6 different breeds, recording early growth and development traits as well as traits related to cow reproduction on 6 NSW DPI research farms. Steers from the project are finished at UNE’s Tullimba feedlot, where valuable feed efficiency data is collected before animals are recorded for meat quality traits. This population of 6 breeds forms a key reference for multi-breed genomic and genetic evaluation, with all animals genotyped and some sires sequenced. This provides a magnificent resource for exploration and learning. Numerous PhD scholarships are now available for students to work as part of this project.


If you are interested in another topic related to beef cattle production please contact us to discuss the idea of your choice. Please contact A/Prof Sam Clark or Dr Kath Donoghue to discuss. To apply please send cover letter and CV to Sam Clark at


Project overview

The Southern Multi Breed (SMB) project is a collaborative R&D project involving NSW DPI and the University of New England being conducted on five NSW DPI research stations, and the UNE Research Feedlot over the five years, 2020 to 2025.

The SMB project will provide an invaluable source of information for seedstock and commercial cattle breeders.

The project is co-funded by NSW DPI, UNE, Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and the Commonwealth Government through the MLA Donor Company (MDC).

This multi-party co-investment will make a significant contribution to the national aim of doubling the rate of genetic gain in the Australian beef herd.

The outcomes of the $7.3m SMB project will deliver significant enhancements to the current within-breed genetic evaluations conducted by BREEDPLAN, as well as allowing Australian beef producers for the first time to directly compare animals for all BREEDPLAN traits and assess their genetic merit irrespective of breed.

Improved within-breed genetic evaluation

Cattle in a paddock looking towards the camera

High-quality records on hard to measure traits that have important impacts on beef herd profitability will be recorded as part of this project. These traits include female fertility traits (such as days to calving), as well as feed efficiency and carcass traits.

As a result of this intensive, precise recording of new, existing and hard-to-measure traits, seedstock and commercial bull buyers will have access to EBVs (Estimated Breeding Values) with more accuracy for describing the genetic merit of individual animals. New traits will also be recorded throughout the life of the project, giving seedstock and commercial bull buyers' access to EBVs for a wider range of traits that impact commercial profitability.

The new traits include female fertility traits (eg lactation anoestrus, age at puberty, gestation length for natural joinings) and welfare traits (maternal behaviour at calving). Other traits will be evaluated throughout the life of the project for potential inclusion ion BREEDPLAN and their impact on commercial profit.

All animals in the SMB project will be genotyped to create a genomic resource population on for all traits recorded during the project. This genomic resource population will augment existing within-breed genomic reference populations for currently recorded traits, thus contributing to more accurate within-breed genetic evaluations for those breeds involved in the project. This reference population will also provide benefit future research.

Development of multi-breed genetic evaluation

Cattle in a paddock looking away from the camera

The data collected during the SMB project will also provide a platform that contributes to developments within BREEDPLAN that will allow for the estimation of multi-breed Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs).

Multi-breed EBVs will enable producers the opportunity to directly compare animals for BREEDPLAN traits across those six key Australian beef breeds involved in the project for the first time. Currently, all BREEDPLAN EBV’s and $Indices are breed specific and cannot be compared across breeds.

Multi-breed EBVs and $Indices are expected to increase productivity, profitability and efficiencies across the beef sector by allowing fair comparison of breeds and the best use of these in crossbreeding programs.

Five breeds representing the most popular breeds in southern Australia, and the Brahman breed from northern Australia, have been included in the project to date.

The inclusion of the Brahman breed links the SMB project to the Repronomics2 project currently being run in northern Australia, ensuring national outcomes and benefits, led by AGBU.

Foundation cattle were sourced from across Australia and are producing progeny that are being recorded head-to-head on NSW DPI research stations from conception to slaughter over the five years of the project (2020-2025).

It is planned that a total of more than 8,000 calves will be born, with 3000 steers and close to 3000 heifers retained for joining. Specifically, the project will produce up to 2000 calves per annum at five DPI research stations across NSW:

  • Trangie Agricultural Research Centre (Trangie),
  • Grafton Agricultural Research Station (Grafton),
  • Tocal Agricultural Institute (Tocal),
  • Glen Innes Agricultural Research and Advisory Station (Glen Innes), and
  • Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute (EMAI).

The steers will be backgrounded prior to entry into the UNE research feedlot ‘Tullimba’ and slaughter at industry relevant carcass specifications. The two DPI research stations involved in the backgrounding are:

  • Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute (EMAI)
  • Duck Creek Field Station – Grafton satellite station (Duck Creek).

Multiple breeds are represented at each site, allowing for direct comparison and recording of animals born and raised in the same environment. This means that another unique benefit of the project is that it will allow comparisons across different locations, with varying conditions such as environment, rainfall and pasture type.

The project includes R&D into the best methods to use multi-breed information – R&D that is vital to turning the data collected across the herds into information that can benefit breeders and commercial producers.

The NSW Government and project partners recognise that genetic improvement is one of the most important strategies to improve productivity and profitability of livestock enterprises. The combined 10-year value of genetic improvement in beef cattle and sheep industries in NSW through BREEDPLAN and Sheep Genetics is $1.18 billion, comprising $508m in beef cattle and $672m in sheep (AGBU, 2020).

The co-investment by NSW Government and the partners in this flagship R&D project will help generate critical multi-breed information needed to further enhance the capabilities of BREEDPLAN.

News and Updates

Presentation: MLA Livestock Genetics Forum

Project leader Dr Kath Donoghue from NSW Department of Primary Industries presenting at the MLA Livestock Genetics Forum 2022 in Adelaide, South Australia. (Tuesday, April 5, 2022)

Media Coverage

Southern Multi Breed project expects 521 calves in major milestone
The first-generation of heifers bred by the Southern Multi Breed project are just days away from calving, with 521 expected to calve beginning in mid-July. Read more

Southern Mulit-breed Project set to offer insight into more heritable fertility traits
The long-held stereotype that fertility is only a problem in the north could soon be thrown out the window. Genetics rather than management play just as big a role, according to Dr Brad Walmsley of NSW DPI. Read more

Southern Multi Breed project data flow raises questions
Beef producers have questioned how useful data from the $7.3 million Southern Multi Breed project will be after it was revealed the six breed associations involved will determine how the information is released. Read more

Multi-breed EBV research receives $7.3 million funding from NSW government
The NSW government has announced $7.3 million in research funding to establish a multi-breed estimated breeding value for the six most common breeds on Breedplan. Read more

True crossbreeding prediction begins with multi-breed EBVsThe first spring joining in a five year program to develop multi-breed EBVs will take place on six Department of Primary Industries' research stations from September. Read more

More information

For further information on the project, contact: