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Adding continental sires to the dairy breeding mix

Adding continental sires to the dairy breeding mix

After mastering their replacement heifer breeding strategy, Kevin and Enda Farrell have doubled down on their beef breeding strategy to produce quality calves.

Participants in the Teagasc / Lakeland Dairies Joint Development Programme, working closely with Owen McPartland, programme advisor, and local advisor John Conway, the father and son duo milk over 160 cows on a 52ha grazing platform in Carrickedmond, Co. Longford.

Prior to the conversion to dairy in 2020, Kevin operated a suckler and sheep enterprise, with a calf to beef enterprise also incorporated on the farm in the years leading up to conversion. This grounding has made both Kevin and Enda fully aware of how important genetic potential is in the operation of a successful dairy calf to beef system – from birth right through to slaughter – and thus why they’ve placed an increased focus on selecting high beef merit bulls for use on their dairy herd.

The herd

Carrying a herd of predominately black and white Holstein Friesian cows, the Farrells have placed a strong emphasis on breeding and improving the genetic merit of the herd since entering dairying. Their ideal cows is one with the potential to achieve over 520kg of milk solids, delivering constituents of 4% protein and 5% butterfat, calving in February each year, and achieving 6+ lactations.

To achieve this, the top cows and heifers in the herd are selectively bred to high EBI bulls. Replacement heifers on the farm are synchronised and get sexed semen of the highest EBI bulls available, with a specific focus placed on the fertility and milk sub-indexes. The current EBI of the herd is €229, which places the herd in the top 10% nationally.

In recent years, the cow size in the herd has reduced slightly. The herd currently has a maintenance sub-index of €17 and a beef sub-index of -€20 across all cows, meaning the herd sits at the lower end of national average in terms of the beef merit.

To counteract this, high merit Angus and Hereford stock bulls have sired the majority of the beef bred calves on the farm in recent years, with AI making up the remainder. Now, with the dairy heifer replacement strategy for the farm mastered, an increased emphasis is being placed on beef breeding this year.

Table 1: Stock bulls used on farm

SireBreedDairy Beef IndexCalving difficultyGestation lengthCarcass weightBeef sub-index
Termon Lord Harry (AA165) Angus €148 2.7% 0.17 days 15.6kg €120
Allowdale Rambo Hereford €85 5.5% -0.96 days 13.6kg €98

The 2024 beef breeding plan

The plan this year is use beef AI for at least 6 to 7 weeks, before the Angus stock bull is used to mop up any repeats or late-cycling cows. The selected AI sires are at the higher end of the beef sub-index on the Dairy Beef Index.

Although Angus is the preferred breed to meet repeat customers’ demand, some Limousin and Belgian Blue genetics will be introduced to further enhance the beef characteristics of the calves – especially those born at the shoulders of the calving season.

On this farm, it was decided to split the beef bull teams into two periods over the breeding season: a team of bulls for the first four weeks; and then a team of bulls for the main calving period before the Angus stock bull joins the herd for the latter end of the breeding season. Some of the bulls are in both teams.

This split means that the gestation length of the bulls will not impact as much on the days in milk for the herd as compared to later on in the season. It was also felt that the use of high carcass merit bulls at this stage would leave a more saleable calf in late February and early March, when a large number of calves come on stream. The plan is to start the breeding season around May 10.

Table 2: 2024 bull team

SireCalving difficultyGestation lengthCarcass weightBeef sub-indexAI company
Sires for use on cows
LM2014 3.3% 2.8 days 28.3kg €171 Dovea
BB7278 4.6% -2.5 days 20.4kg €145 NCBC
BB4329 5.6% 0.2 days 28.3kg €169 Dovea
BB5562 6.5% -1.5 days 31kg €183 NCBC
AA4087 5.2% 1.3 days 25kg €148 NCBC
AA4323 4.9% 0.2 days 20kg €122 NCBC
AU4683 3.6% 0.6 days 20kg    
Termon Long Harry (AA165) 2.7% 0.17 days 15.6kg €120 AA stock bull
Sires for use on repeat heifers
AA4089 6.5% (heifer) -3.6 days 9.7kg €102 NCBC
Dungimmon Valentino 8.3% (heifer) 0.82 days 11.2kg €106 Stock bull

Enda was cautious of using bulls that could cause difficult calvings, but was confident the more mature, larger-framed cows in the herd had the scope to take a beefy bull within reason.

With this in mind, the team of bulls selected has a calving difficulty range of 3.3% to 6.5%. This allows Enda to pick suitable bulls to match the cow - depending on her age and size.

Longer gestation bulls will be used in the first three weeks of the breeding season. Additionally, a number of Limousin straws will be used on suitable cows that show signs of heat in the week before the main breeding season commences.

In terms of criteria for selection, the AI sires had to be superior to the stock bulls presently on farm. Additionally, for cows, a calving difficulty of less than 6.5%, gestation length of less than 3 days, a beef sub-index of no less than €120 and a carcass weight of greater than 16kg was desired.  

Table 3: 2024 beef breeding plan

Week -1Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Week 5Week 6Week 7Week 8Week 9Week 10
LM2014 LM2014                  
  BB7278 BB7278 BB7278       BB7278      
  BB4329 BB4329 BB4329              
  BB5562 BB5562 BB5562       BB5562      
  AA4087 AA4087 AA4087 AA4087 AA4087 AA4087 AA4087      
    AA4323 AA4323 AA4323 AA4323 AA4323 AA4323 AA165 AA165 AA165

This article was produced by the Teagasc DairyBeef 500 team, and first appeared on Agriland, as part of the Dairy Beef Index Series.

Also read: A breeding plan to improve beef merit and maintain calving traits

Also read: Producing quality calves to ensure repeat custom

Also read: Dairy Beef Index Series: Mullen family farm, County Meath

Find out more about the Teagasc DairyBeef 500 Campaign