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Lessons learned from BEEP-S

Having made the effort to weigh the cow and her calf for BEEP-S it’s now time to study and analyse the results. Which cows and sires are giving the best performance for your farming system? Tom Coll, Drystock Advisor, Teagasc Donegal, looks at how future breeding decisions can improve profitability

In the last quarter of the year farmers who participated in the BEEP-S weighed their cows and calves and entered the weights on the ICBF database. What do the national figures tell us about the cows we are breeding and how their progeny are performing prior to weaning?. Individual farm results are now available on the ICBF website since early December. Having made the effort to weigh the cow and her calf it’s time to study and analyse the results. Which cows and sires are giving the best performance for your particular farming system and how can future breeding decisions improve the profit per cow and your overall farm profitability.

5-Star vs 1-Star cows

Nationally nearly a half a million cow and calf pairs have been weighed under the scheme each year in 2019 and 2020. Teagasc has carried out an analysis of the 2019 figures based on over 238,000 cows born in 2012 and 2013 to see the effect of the replacement index on cow liveweight and calf weaning or 200-day weight. In the analysis the effects of cow age and sire genetic merit were removed to allow the analysis to reflect performance differences solely attributed to the genetic merit of the cow. The results of this analysis are outlined in table 1


5-star cows had an average Replacement Index of €127, weighed 628kg and produced calves that weighed 300kg at 200 days old. 1-star cows had an average Replacement Index of €28, were 28kg heavier at 652kg and produced calves that were 8kg lighter at 292kg. This resulted in a 3pc difference in cow/calf weaning pc which is the calf’s 200-day weight as a pc of the cow weight. Therefore increasing cow replacement Index € value will result in an increase in calf weaning weight and still maintain cow liveweight at around 630kgs. You don’t need a bigger cow to produce a heavier weanling.

Sire Terminal Index effect

As part of this analysis, the effect of the sire Terminal Index on calf 200 day weight was also looked at. Table 2 details the 200-day weight of calves based on sire Terminal and dam Replacement Indexes.


The table shows significant differences in calf performance based on sire Terminal Index with five star sires producing calves that were 19kg heavier (293kg) on 200-day weight than 1 star sires (274kg). The calves that expressed the highest 200-day weights were those sired by a five star Terminal Index bull and out of a five star Replacement Index cow. These calves weighed 297kg which was 27kg heavier than calves out of a one star sire and one star dam (270kg).

ICBF Weanling Performance Report

The weanling performance report produced by ICBF at the beginning of December this year and based on your most recent weighings is worth a detailed investigation. The first figure to analyse is the average daily gain of the calves. This should be in the order of 1.1 kg/day for heifers and 1.25kgs/day for bulls especially if you are participating in the meal feeding measure of the BEEPS. Calves being meal fed 1-2 kgs by means of a creep gate and troughs for 4 weeks prior to weaning should hit these targets. An average daily gain of 1.0 kgs/day versus 1.25kgs per day over 200 days is an extra 50kgs liveweight per calf at weaning which is worth over €120 for the good quality calf when sold at the weanling stage. The report allows you to identify the best and worst performing calves and more importantly their dams. This can be used over a number of years to cull consistently underperforming cows based on the calf performance and also the cows weaning efficiency. The target is for each cow is to wean a calf based on its 200 day weight of at least 42 pc the weight of its dam. The range on some farms I have looked at can be quite striking from the 600kg cow weaning a 350 kg calf to the 800kg cow weaning a 200kg calf. You don’t need a bigger cow to produce a heavier weanling as stated earlier especially if you are farming in the west of Ireland on heavy soils. When the two heavies come together (cow and land) it usually results in additional costs associated with longer winters, additional feed requirements and repairs as a result of poaching. Where farmers are using more than one stock bull or different AI sires the report will also rank the sires by the average 200 day weight of the progeny. This can help you make future breeding decisions however, where the numbers are small ie.one to two calves per sire the cow effect may out-weigh the sire effect so study the data closely.

The Eurostar Replacement Index delivers

There is a belief out there that the quality of suckler bred animals is deteriorating as a result of farmers increasing the percentage of high replacement index cows in their herds. Based on the slaughter data from steers slaughtered between 2015 and 2019 and born in BDGP participants’ herds who were increasing the percentage of high replacement index females to comply with BDGP requirements, the evidence doesn’t support the claim. The average carcase weight has increased by 6kgs while the conformation has remained the same at R=. The Euro-Star replacement index is delivering a balanced suckler cow which delivers on the maternal and the terminal traits. Breeding a 5 star replacement Index cow with a bull that is 5 star on the replacement and terminal index will produce good quality efficient heifer replacements and fast growing high quality males and females for slaughter.

For more information on any aspect of Teagasc Beef click here   For more on Improving Genetics in the Suckler herd click here