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Producing Better Quality Saleable Beef Calves from the Dairy Herd

10 May 2024
Type Media Article

By Tom Murphy, B&T Dairy Adviser, Teagasc, Galway/Clare

This year’s spring calving period has ended on most dairy farms and the breeding season is underway or about to start. Among the top pain causing memories (following from the dreadful weather) is the added workload caused by the beef calves not moving off the farm in a fast and orderly fashion. Any innovation which can help to move these calves faster should be grabbed and adopted by the Dairy farmer in advance of next year’s calving season.

To date many beef rearers have been disappointed and there is a rapid turnover of would be beef farmers willing to rear these calves due to past rearing experiences leaving poor profit margins. However, through our National Breeding developments, a “Commercial Beef Value” (CBV) has been developed to identify higher beef merit calves.  The CBV is a value that is available for all cattle that are likely to be finished as beef cattle.

Cattle that have a high CBV will, on average, be faster growing, grade better at slaughter, meet market specifications at a younger age and will not eat as much per kg live-weight gained.

More calf buyers are now focusing on purchasing calves from farms that are producing high CBV calves and with greater exposure of the benefits, this demand will grow further. Dairy farmers making the greatest breeding efforts will market the benefits and reap the reward themselves from returning future demand, ahead of those who don’t. Among the benefits to the prudent Dairy farmer are higher calf prices, more saleable calves at any age, and the reduced need for feed, labour and facilities.

Beef sires selected for use on many Dairy farms (AI or stock bull) is often based on having a very low calving difficulty along with having as short gestation as possible. It makes sense to use these type of bulls to reduce difficult calving’s and increase days in milk, but these traits often come at the expense of beef traits such as carcass weight and live weight gain. This results in beef farmers rearing these calves struggling to have adequate carcass weights to meet meat factory specifications, which in turn reduces the level of income that these dairy calf to beef enterprises can generate.

CBV values are expressed as a euro value and will be generated for all cattle that are likely to be finished, including male and female (non-pedigree) stock bred from beef cows, dairy-bred male and female calves sired by a beef bull and male calves sired by a dairy bull, provided a sire is recorded.

Animals are assigned to one of three different breed types under the CBV, which is dependent on sire and dam breed. These are: beef x beef; beef x dairy; and dairy x dairy. Similar to the Terminal and Replacement Index, animals are assigned a star rating of one to five, with a five star animal being in the top 20% of the national population within that breed type, whereas a one star animal is within the bottom 20%.

CBV Star Rating

Star Rating Suckler Beef X Dairy Dairy X Beef
***** >€302 >€124 >€44
**** >€265 >€79 >€30
*** >€228 >€61 >€18
** >€178 >€44 >€1
* >€178 >€44 >€1

In parallel with the CBV, the Dairy Beef Index (DBI) is a tool for dairy farmers to improve the quality of their beef calves without compromising on essential characteristics such as easy calving and short gestation. The DBI comprises of three sub-indexes:

  1. Calving Sub Index
  2. Beef Sub index. And
  3. Carbon Sub Index

The DBI is somewhat similar to the EBI (Economic Breeding Index) used to express the value of the dairy animal, in that it is expressed in euros, the higher the euro value the better. A bull with a high DBI should pass-on more desirable beefing characteristics to its progeny than a bull with a low DBI. Consequently, progeny from a high DBI bull should generate more revenue than a low DBI bull.

Farmers should familiarise themselves with these DBI figures and focus on the Beef Sub Index to produce a calf that has a high Commercial Beef Value. Many of the traits in the CBV are also included in the Beef Sub Index of the EBI for dairy animals and in the Beef Sub Index of the DBI for beef bulls.

The tables below shows what the minimum beef sub index that you should be looking for in a bull in order to breed 4-5 star CBV calves from the different cow types that are common in Ireland.

Poor Beef Merit Dam: (EBI Beef Sub Index:-€35)

Target: Bull Beef SI Required: N of bulls in active bull list with less than 5% Calf Diff: 
4 Star CBV calf (Top 40% of BXD calves) €108.00 28
5 star CBV calf (Top 20% of BXD calves) €151.00 8

Average Beef Merit Dairy Cow: (EBI Beef Sub Index:-€2)

Target: Bull Beef SI Required: N of bulls in active bull list with less than 5 % Calf Diff:
4 Star CBV calf (Top 40% of BXD calves) €76.00 82
5 Star CBV calf (Top 20% of BXD calves) €119.00 23

High Beef Merit Dairy Cow: (EBI Beef Sub Index: €10)

Target: Bull Beef SI Required: N of bulls in active bull list with less than 5% Calf Diff
4 Star CBV calf (Top 40% of BXD calves) €63.00 102
5 Star CBV calf (Top 20% of BXD calves) €106.00 31

Dairy farmers aiming to produce quality beef calves, should group cows according to the risk of having a difficult calving e.g. 1. maidens 2. second calvers or small framed cows and 3. mature cows.

They then need to identify the maximum calving difficulty that they are happy with for each group and select the bull with the highest beef sub-index at their chosen level of calving difficulty to give the calf with the highest CBV at the other side.

If you are a Dairy farmer and see merit in improving the quality of beef calves born on your farm, you should apply to participate in the new “CSP Dairy Beef Welfare Scheme 2024-2027” where a monetary incentive up to the value of €1000 per farmer per annum can be availed of (closing date 15th May 2024). Details at:

gov.ie - CSP Dairy Beef Welfare Scheme (www.gov.ie)