Technical Notes

Romagnola Meets Market

Trial work at the Beef Quality Cooperative Research Centre in southern NSW has shown that a wide range of genotypes will produce carcasses of acceptable eating quality for the domestic market. The steers evaluated were the progeny of Hereford cows mated to a range of European, British and Wagyu sires.

For this market, where age is a primary consideration, growth rate and carcass yield will be the most important traits that determine profitability for the producer.

This was borne out in the C.R.C trials, where, with saleable beef valued at $10 per kg, the steers by European sires produced carcasses valued up to $140 above the other breed types.

The trials are valuable because with new technologies for beef production continually being developed, it is sometimes difficult for cattlemen to keep everything in perspective and to get our priorities right. We need to be able to identify and focus on those factors that have a real impact on the efficiency of our production system.

The selection of bulls for their propensity to marble and the development of DNA tests for the presence of genes that contribute to tenderness, are both means by which the eating quality of beef may be improved.

However before we adopt new technologies such as these, we must consider two things:

Firstly the critical level of expression for each characteristic. That is the level beyond which there is no financial reward for further improvement.

Secondly, the negative correlation that can exist between traits, such as between some adaptive and production traits or between growth rate and marbling.

The Romagnola breed holds a unique position in the industry in relation to both of these considerations:

It inherits the adaptive traits and strong constitution of its Bos Indicus ancestors and, at the same time, is unsurpassed for growth rate and muscularity by any other European breed.

In addition, Italian breeders and researchers have focused strongly on improving the eating quality of the end product to satisfy their discerning customers.

At present most of our markets do not pay a premium for quality criteria such as tenderness and marbling. Under these circumstances high growth rate and high yield are the most important production traits.

However, interest in the eating quality of beef is increasing and more markets are incorporating quality criteria in their specifications, such as in the MSA system. The Romagnola is one breed that can be used to meet these changing conditions without the need to trade off performance for quality. Mated to British bred cows, Romagnola bulls not only generate maximum growth and higher yielding carcasses but have already proven to do so without any adverse effect on marbling.


Let’s Look at Bloodlines (from a presentation given by John Onley at the Romagnola KIT meeting July 2004)

Within the breed people often talk about “old blood,” “new blood,” “New Zealand blood, etc.” It may be timely to look at what all this means.

Romagnola cattle, wherever they are bred throughout the world, all trace back to 9 sire lines, or “tori capostipiti”. Of these, 7 are available as direct sire lines and 2 are only available through maternal lines.

The original export of Romagnola cattle from Italy in 1974 included the bulls Scottish Dritto, Scottish Caesar, Avoncroft Telstar, Avoncroft Marcus, MMB Binario and BRS Vadis to Scotland and Orlone, Orlando, Marco and Monello to Canada. Very soon after semen from 7 of these bulls representing 4 of the available bloodlines arrived in Australia. The bloodlines of these bulls are shown in Table 1.

Table 1

Foundation Romagnola bloodlines (F1-F4)

Semen Sires imported 1974 (1-7)

Carpinello (F3)Orlone (6)

Sireline   Semen Sires
Dritto (F1) Scottish Dritto (1)
MMB Binario (3)
Molosso (F2) Avoncroft Telstar (4)
Avoncroft Marcus (5)
Trento (F4) Orlando (7)

Early in the next decade semen from a further 3 bulls, Rashwood Gerald (8) and Friarton Ajax (9) both by Avoncroft Telstar and BRS Vadis (10), whose direct sire and dam lines were both Molosso, was imported. This did little to increase the genetic diversity available at the time.

The 4 bloodlines that were available, if used judiciously, were adequate to get the breed off to a good start in Australia.

However Scottish Caesar, Avoncroft Telstar and Avoncroft Marcus were all direct Dritto – Molosso combinations and very closely related. Scottish Dritto, Friarton Ajax, BRS Vadis, MMB Binario and Rashwood Gerald were also closely related to them while only Orlone and Orlando represented different bloodlines.

This did pose some problems for breeders who did not pay close attention to planning their matings.

By the 1990’s the heavy use of Orlone and his sons and the Molosso line bulls Avoncroft Marcus and Wemala Mike (by Vadis) saw these bulls responsible for a large majority of the females in the breed. Combined with the consequent underutilisation of Dritto and Orlando bulls at the time this resulted in an increase in the degree of inbreeding above the acceptable safe level.

From 1993 to 1998 semen from bulls representing the other 5 bloodlines was imported into Australia. These lines and examples of representative sires are shown in Table 2.

Table Two

Foundation Romagnola Bloodlines (F5-F9)

Semen imported 1993 – 1998

Sireline  Semen Sires
Bolero (F5) Ande
Belvedere (F6) Cesare
Otello (F7)  Monello
Discolo (F8) Elisir (maternal line)
Caronte (F9)  Bulgaro (maternal line)

Chart 1 shows the pedigrees of the 1974 – 1983 imported semen sires and Chart 2 those for the 1993 – 1998 importations. Similar charts can be drawn up for any bulls wherever they are bred, to show how they fit into these bloodlines or families.

It is important to remember that in any breed or population, if selection is made for a limited number of criteria, such as growth rate and carcass quality, certain lines will tend to perform better for those traits than the others. Continued selection will tend to concentrate the genes of these few lines in the population and if care is not taken other lines will simply be lost to the breed. The position can then arise where as genetic diversity decreases the coefficient of inbreeding will increase with a parallel increase in inbreeding depression because we have reduced the available bloodlines below a sustainable level. Inbreeding depression results in lower growth rates, a reduction in vigour, fertility and overall performance as well as an increase in the incidence of physical defects. Fortunately, these problems can be readily overcome by introducing other bloodlines to the breeding program.

We do not have a problem at present but we must consciously maintain the range of bloodlines we have. They all have traits we need but breeding is a complex art. Adaptation, fertility and mothering ability, growth, carcass quality, temperament, structural soundness and more are all needed for optimum performance.

However selection for some measures of performance such as growth rate or feed conversion efficiency may be antagonistic to some important adaptive traits and it is important to understand that these negative relationships can exist between different traits.

As a Society, we must maintain the diversity of our breed’s genetic base in order to avoid the loss of valuable genetic material and as an insurance against the negative effects of inbreeding. We can do this by being aware of the genetic profile of our breeders and the range and attributes of the bloodlines available.

World Italian Congress