Carcass weight and conformation need to be improved in dairy-beef calves

The Gene Ireland Dairy Beef Programme selects suitable bulls for progeny testing on dairy cows.

Ciaran Costello – from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) – said: “The programme is available to any dairy farmer in the country willing to record data such as: sires; calving ease; calf vigor; and calf size.”

The main aim of the programme is to identify bulls with the highest performance for carcass weight, conformation and feed intake for beef production – with high meat quality for the consumer – without compromising calving difficulty or gestation length for the dairy cow.

“It’s easy to find short gestation, easy-calving beef bulls to use on dairy cows, but the aim of the programme is to find a balance where the bulls also have good terminal traits for carcass weight and conformation,” Ciaran explained.

Beef bulls

He added: “These elite young sires which we have available to dairy farmers to use on their herds are all owned by the artificial insemination (AI) companies involved in the programme.”

He explained that the test straws are sent out in packs of 35 straws (five bulls x seven straws).

There is no requirement on how these straws are used (i.e. at what point they are used during the breeding season), this is up to the discretion of the herd-owner.

The price of the semen is €6/straw, with this money collected by the AI service provider that is dropping the semen to the farmer.

Farmers are offered five pack options:
  • Aberdeen Angus (AA) pack;
  • Hereford (HE) pack;
  • Traditional pack (AA and HE);
  • Continental pack;
  • Multi-breed pack.

A list of of breeds available are: Aberdeen Angus; Aubrac; Blonde D’Aquataine; Belgian Blue; Charolais; Hereford; Limousin; Parthenaise; Salers; and Shorthorn.

Trends in the Gene Ireland Dairy Beef Programme (2015-2018)

Ciaran explained: “In order to improve the quality of dairy-origin beef, we must progeny test beef bulls in the dairy herd.

“Of the calves born, 600 are bought by Teagasc/ABP at two to three weeks-of-age for the Teagasc/ABP Dairy Beef Programme to be progeny tested. 250 are sent to Johnstown Castle and 350 to the ABP trial farm.

The rest of the calves are reared commercially. A number of these heifers and steers are then performance tested in Tully Test Centre, Co. Kildare.

Some of the key measurements that are recorded on these animals in Tully are: feed intake; feed efficiency; average daily gain; methane production; carcass data; and meat quality.

“These high-performing bulls can then be used to improve the genetic merit of the pedigree beef herds which, in turn, will produce the next generation of beef bulls for the dairy herd,” he concluded.