Are you choosing the right beef bull for your dairy herd?

Dairy farmers need to keep a number of factors in mind when selecting a beef bull for their dairy herd, according to the ABP Group’s Stephen Connolly.

Connolly discussed why choosing a beef bull on its terminal traits is important at last week’s Moorepark ’17 open day.

“The national dairy herd is expanding and there’s going to be more and more dairy calves available for beef production,” Connolly began.

According to a recent survey, dairy farmers identify two priority traits when choosing a beef bull for crossing with their dairy herd; these are easy calving and short gestation.

“Dairy farmers are selecting for easy calving and short gestation and, after that, nothing else.

“When farmers select beef bulls solely for ease of calving, they are ultimately selecting bulls that produce smaller calves with smaller carcasses,” Connolly said.

While the contribution of calf sales to overall profit is generally considered small; Teagasc is encouraging dairy farmers to optimise the value of calves produced.

20kg difference in carcass weight

Connolly was involved in a trial carried out by Teagasc in 2015 that compared progeny from a high terminal index bull and a low terminal index bull.

Both bulls were easy calving and short gestation, which dairy farmers want. However, one bull was higher for carcass traits than the other.

“The two bulls’ calves were similar when they were born; both were similar weights and had the same gestation length.

But when it came to slaughter, there was a 20kg difference in carcass weight between progeny from the high terminal index bull versus the low terminal index bull.

“Progeny from the high terminal index bull were also 15 days younger at slaughter, Connolly said.

“That’s a huge saving for a beef farmer.

“More of the animals from the high terminal index bull received their Quality Assurance bonus (12c/kg) and more of them received their breed bonus (Angus and Hereford bonuses) at peak times that was worth 30c/kg,” Connolly said.

This trial has led on to the Teagasc/ICBF/ABP dairy beef programme – a breeding programme hoped to develop an index of the best beef sires for dairy farmers to use on their dairy herds.

According to Teagasc, these bulls will produce progeny with desirable traits such as: high growth rates; improved health characteristics; high feed efficiency; well-fleshed carcasses; and good meat quality.

It is also hoped that the economically important traits for dairy farmers – easy calving and short gestation – will be maintained.

Preliminary data from the programme shows that a farmer slaughtering 50 animals from a high terminal index bull would generate €6,000 more profit through increased carcass weight, better carcass conformation and a higher percentage of animals reaching breed bonus specification.