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Producing quality beef calves to ensure repeat custom

Producing quality beef calves to ensure repeat custom

Milking 75 Friesian cows in Pallasgreen, Co. Limerick, Seán Barry is following a dairy-beef breeding programme centred on the use of high Dairy Beef Index sires, with individual bulls selected for heifers, second calvers and mature cows.

Seán, who works closely with his father Paddy, sells all his calves from the yard, with repeat customers coming back each year. This is the most important factor when working on improving beef breeding in the dairy herd, as repeat custom is a sure sign of customer satisfaction.

Working as an AI technician with Munster Bovine during the main breeding season, Seán has always shown a keen interest in breeding on his own farm. Close to 100% AI is used, with just an Angus stock bull turned out to mop up the heifers after two rounds of AI. For timing of AI, Seán uses automated heat detection and serves cows at 6pm each evening, after milking is finished. If a cow is seen bulling late in the day, she will be served at this time also. If she is still showing signs of heat the following day, a second straw will be used the following day.

The beef team

Working with Nora O’Donovan, Joint Programme Advisor, and Alan Dillon, DairyBeef 500 Programme Manager, Seán has selected a team of beef bulls suitable for his cows. Sexed semen will be used to breed replacement heifers, as Seán has been happy with this technology for the past few years.

The herd has a maintenance sub-index of €10 and a beef sub-index of -€9, meaning Seán’s herd sits somewhere near national average in terms of the beef merit.

The bull team has been selected on the basis of sires suitable for heifers, second calvers and mature cows. A small number of longer-gestation beef bulls will be used early in the season, while some short-gestation bulls will be used at the end of the breeding season in an effort to tighten up the calving spread. A number of test bulls are also used on mature cows each year, with a few Angus and Limousin test sires selected for the 2024 breeding season. The sires selected will also qualify Seán for the Dairy Beef Welfare Scheme.

Table 1: Sires selected for the 2024 breeding season on Seán Barry’s farm

SireCalving difficultyGestation lengthCarcass weightBeef sub-indexAI company
Early bulling sires
LM9379* 5% 1.63 days 33.2kg €190 NCBC
LM7416 3.9% 2.07 days 22.6kg €155 NCBC
Second-calver sires
AA5280 3.4% -1.79 days 8.4kg €104 NCBC
Main season beef sires on mature cows
BB7278 4.6% -2.46 days 20.4kg €145 NCBC
HE9382 3.6% -1.32 days 12.2kg €109 NCBC
AA9860* 2.8% -2.19 days 20.8kg €120 NCBC
AA9532* 3.0% -0.43 days 14.9kg €114 NCBC
AA9607* 2.8% -2.3 days 20.1kg €134 NCBC
Heifer repeat sires
AA4089 6.5% (heifer) -3.6 days 9.7kg €102 NCBC
Last week of breeding
AA8472 2.2% -3.02 days 7.9kg €84 NCBC

High CBV calves

When Seán looked at the bulls selected on the ICBF sire advice tab, it showed an average Dairy Beef Index of €159. More importantly, however, the beef sub-index of the bulls used was €122. The average gestation length of the bulls is -1.7 days, with an average calving difficulty of only 3.3%. This means in addition to having no issues with hard calving sires and long gestation lengths, Seán will have high Commercial Beef Value (CBV) calves that will continue to sell well out of his yard each year.

Sean Barry pictured on farm

Seán Barry pictured on his farm in Co. Limerick

When the current CBVs of Seán’s calves were examined, it showed Belgian Blues ranging from €130-172, Angus ranging from €61 -151 and Herefords ranging from €75-98. The evidence is apparent in the effort Seán has been making and will continue to make in terms of producing quality beef calves from his dairy herd, which will be attractive to purchase from an Irish beef farmer’s point of view.

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

Find out more about the Teagasc DairyBeef 500 Campaign