Our Organisation Search
Quick Links
Toggle: Topics

3 tools to breed better beef from the dairy herd

3 tools to breed better beef from the dairy herd

A historical preference of selecting beef sires for use on the dairy herd based solely on calving ease and short gestation resulted in the deterioration of the beef merit of the resulting calves.

With additional cow numbers, a lessor requirement for replacement heifers and the use of sexed semen, there is scope additional for dairy-beef production within the Irish dairy farming landscape.

Since the Dairy Beef Index (DBI) was introduced, there has been an increased focus on improving beef merit, resulting in a halt in this decile since 2020. Although a marginal improvement in the beef merit of calves has been witnessed, an increased focus needs to be placed on dairy-beef breeding strategies to ensure a continued market for dairy-beef calves into the future.

With the breeding season fast approaching, now is an opportune time to assess the beef breeding strategies employed to produce more efficient, saleable and profitable beef calves. As part of Teagasc Breeding Week, Siobhan Ring, Senior Research Geneticist with ICBF, joined Teagasc’s John McCabe to discuss the tools available to dairy farmers to produce animals of improved genetic capabilities for beef production from the dairy herd.

“There has been more use of dairy-beef sires over the last couple of years, but we really need to make sure they are of good quality,” Siobhan explained. Up until recently, she added, “the tools didn’t exist to identify the good beef bulls and how to mate them to the right cows". To aid this, three tools have been introduced by ICBF – the Dairy Beef Index, Sire Advice and the Commercial Beef Value.

Dairy Beef Index

On the Dairy Beef Index, Siobhan said: “It’s basically a breeding goal designed to identify beef bulls for use in the dairy herd. It’s the exact same concept as the EBI, but that’s obviously for selecting dairy bulls for the dairy herd.”

This tool focuses on the traits that are relevant when selecting beef bulls and includes calving traits, beef traits and carbon merit. Siobhan added: “It looks for bulls that are easy calving, have a short gestation, animals that are docile, polled and have desirable carcass attributes. That’s what’s really important for the dairy farmer themselves, but also to the farmer who might be finishing or taking them through the first winter,” she explained.

Traditionally, Angus and Hereford sires would have been the breeds of choice in dairy-beef breeding circles, but the DBI includes other breeds that may be suitable for meeting both the dairy farmer’s calving needs and the beef farmer’s needs in terms of beef production.

Sire Advice

Once dairy farmers have selected a team of beef bulls from the DBI, Siobhan advised them to consider using Sire Advice, which is available to make beef breeding decisions this year. This tool offers tailored advice on which bull to use on which cow, based on the sire and dam’s genetic predisposition for calving difficulty, gestation length, maturity and other factors.

“If you picked three bulls, it will identify which cows should get each of the three individual bulls,” she explained.

Commercial Beef Value

If the correct beef breeding decisions are made at farm level, the Commercial Beef Value (CBV) of the resulting calves can be maximised. This is a tool to identify potentially the highest-performing animals for beef production and it encompasses carcass and carbon traits.

The CBV is expressed as a euro value, which reflects the expected profit at point of slaughter relative to others of the same type. It is available for non-breeding animals – suckler (beef sire and beef dam), dairy x beef (beef sire and dairy dam) and dairy x dairy (dairy sire and dairy dam – males only).

For more information on the three breeding tools outlined above and how to use them in advance of the breeding season on your farm, watch the entire recording of the webinar below:

All of the webinars from Breed Week are available to view on the Teagasc Youtube channel.

Also read: The advantages of sexed semen

Also read: Breeding quality calves for repeat custom in Co. Meath

Also read: Identifying your herd's strengths and weaknesses ahead of breeding