Cattle out of Africa (1990)
The improvement of the genetic make-up of Australia’s cattle herds with breeds such as the Boran and the Tuli from Africa has been a major aim of CSIRO researchers.
But importing new breeds of cattle into Australia from Africa, where animal disease is rife, is impossible. So the researchers collected embryos from selected stock in Africa, froze them, and took them to Cocos Islands, Australia’s off-shore quarantine station. There, they were implanted in Friesian surrogate mothers, flown from Australia especially for the task.
After 74 successful births, the young Boran and Tuli calves were tested for disease before being landed on the mainland in March 1990.
[Images flash through of a researcher looking down a microscope, a cow with a newborn calf, an aeroplane landing, cows and calves and then Dr. John Frisch talking]
Dr. John Frith: We had a lot of scepticism hurled at us originally that it was just virtually impossible to do it. The people involved were always very confident that it would happen because we understand the technology, we understand what we wanted and understood how to do it.
[Text appears: The Researchers]
[Image changes to show a cow with a calf]
Narrator: A cow with a healthy new born calf. It’s a natural every day event, but with births like this CSIRO scientists are forging a link between the cattle of two continents.
[Image changes to show a world map and a Tuli calf appears in the African continent and then a Friesian cow appears in the Australian continent on the map]
The calf is a pure bred African Tuli taken as an embryo from its natural mother in Zimbabwe, and its surrogate mother is an Australian Friesian flown from 5000 kilometres to be implanted with her offspring to be.
[Image changes to show a yacht on the beach of the Cocos Islands]
[Image changes to show the Quarantine Centre on the Cocos Islands with cows in paddocks, then in yards]
And this is where genetic history is being made, a tiny dot in the Indian Ocean, Australian’s quarantine centre on the Cocos Islands. The aim of the project is to improve the genetic makeup of Australia’s northern herds, and Dr John Frisch and his CSIRO colleagues found the new blood they were looking for in Africa.
[Image changes to show cows in Africa and then the camera pans over a herd of cattle]
[Image changes to show Dr. John Frisch, CSIRO]
John Frisch: So we wanted the African breed specifically because Africa’s a continent that is very similar to Australia in many respects. The climate’s very similar, the requirements that cattle need just to survive and produce in that area are very similar to the requirements here.
[Image changes to show a herd of Boran cattle]
[Image changes to show a herd of Tuli cattle and then the camera pans over the herds of cattle in the landscape]
Narrator: The Boran from Zambia with its distinctive hump, and the Tuli from Zimbabwe evolved in harsh environments very similar to tropical Australia, and as well as providing excellent beef they are very fertile, a feature needed to improve productivity of the northern herds. The African breeds are also highly disease resistant, but importing them live straight to Australia was out of the question.
[Image changes to show a herd of deer in the African landscape]
Africa is paradise for a host of animal diseases not found in Australia.
[Image changes to show two Boran bulls]
[Image changes to show a CSIRO researcher looking down a microscope]
So CSIRO proposed a daring strategy, bring together handpicked animals in Africa, then collect and freeze their minute embryos straight from the protective envelope of the womb. Right from the outset the team faced unique difficulties.
[Image changes to show Dr. Tim Williams, CSIRO]
Tim Williams: Just getting all the equipment together, we had to actually put two laboratories together over there.
[Image changes to show a laboratory and images flash through of researchers at work in the laboratory]
One of them stayed there in Zambia, but just to get all the equipment together for those two laboratories, all the equipment necessary for six months, two embryo transfer programs.
[Image changes to show Dr. Tim Williams]
In Africa there’s nobody you call up and say, look, I need this tomorrow. You got to have it with you.
[Image changes to show CSIRO team at work training staff in embryo transfer technology]
Narrator: In exchange for access to the genetic potential of the Boran and Tuli, the CSIRO team trained African staff in embryo transfer technology and left behind a fully equipped laboratory.
[Image changes to show an aeroplane landing and cows disembarking from the aeroplane and then the Friesian cows in the yards]
The Cocos Islands is Australia’s offshore quarantine station and provided the rendezvous for the frozen embryos from African and their adoptive Australian mothers to be. Once the embryos were implanted it was a case of waiting with a little more than the usual air of nerves and anticipation.
[Image changes to show a newborn calf being delivered]
Births like this have clearly shown that delivery African cattle from Australian mothers produces a fine, thriving herd.
[Image changes to show calves coming out of the yards and running and playing in a paddock]
[Image changes to show a calf having a blood test while being held by two researchers]
But before these calves could impart their genetic advantages in Australia there was six months of quarantine on the Cocos Islands while they completed a battery of disease tests and observations.
[Image changes to show an aeroplane landing and a herd of cattle disembarking from the aeroplane and being loaded onto a truck]
With that last hurdle now surmounted Australia’s own Boran and Tuli have finally arrived home. For CSIRO scientists like John Frisch and Tim Williams, the arrival of the Boran and Tuli in Australia caps a decade of intensive research and organisation. For the beef industry there’s the potential for productivity gains of up to 25%, and a consortium of Australian beef producers has ensured the financial support that will see the project to its conclusion.
[Image changes to show Dr. John Frisch]
John Frisch: It provides that whole new bank of genes that we can use to assemble animals that are better adapted to the environment that we have, and we’re not just considering improving the cattle industry up to the year 2000, but improving the cattle industry in Australia forever.
[CSIRO logo and text appears: CSIRO Australia MCMXC]