Dairy Beef Index: What do calf-to-beef farmers need to know?

Something that a lot of farmers might be hearing over the next few weeks is the Dairy Beef Index (DBI) when it comes to buying calves.

The DBI was introduced by the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) and Teagasc back in 2019, with the purpose being that dairy farmers could use this tool when selecting sires in order to breed beef cattle with desirable traits for beef farmers.

It also focuses on two key traits from the dairy herd’s perspective, which are easy calving and short gestation.

How does it work?

The index ranks each beef sire for their use within the dairy herd based on their genetic merit.

The DBI is composed of the following traits:

Value of calving sub-index (49%):

  • Dairy calving difficulty (35%);
  • Gestation (13%);
  • Calf mortality (1%).

Value of the beef sub-index (51%):

  • Carcass weight (27%);
  • Feed intake (9%);
  • Out-of-spec weight (7%);
  • Carcass conformation (4%);
  • Carcass fat (2%);
  • Out-of-spec conformation (1%);
  • Docility (1%).

The DBI operates in a similar way to the Terminal and Replacement Index, in that it provides a ranking based around a Euro-Star Index value.

Each €1 increase in DBI can be interpreted as a €1 expected increase in profit for that bull’s progeny – when compared to progeny born to the average Holstein-Friesian bull.

For example:

If ‘Sire A’ has a DBI of €100, while ‘Sire B’ has a DBI of €150. It is expected that each calf born from ‘Sire B’ will generate €50 more profit than those from ‘Sire A’, this is through a combination of calving and beef merit attributes.

Over a span of four years, ‘Sire B’ should generate €4,000 more revenue than ‘Sire A’ if he produces 20 calves/year (€50 X 20/calves X four years)

Therefore, the higher euro value a bull is given, the more desirable he is going to be for dairy and beef farmers.

A 1-star rating will rank the bull as being in the bottom 20%. Meanwhile, having a sire that has a 5-star rating will place him in the top 20%.

How do I use the DBI when purchasing a calf?

If farmers are purchasing calves and they wish to know the DBI of the sire used, their best option is to ask the dairy farmer that is selling the calves.

Some dairy farmers may know the figures; however, if they are unsure they can check the sire by searching on the sire search section of the ICBF website.

The DBI value is available for both AI sires and stock bulls used on farms.

Beef farmers should be monitoring the sire’s beef sub-index value for beef traits such as carcass weight, feed intake, carcass conformation and out-of-spec weight and conformation.

This will aid you in the knowing the genetic potential of the calf you are buying for beef finishing.

Having positive figures for carcass traits will help to increase the slaughter performance and potentially aid income that a beef farm can generate.

While keeping an eye on the traits is key, monitoring the reliability of each trait is just as equally important.

beef focus

In comparison to stock bulls, sires that are standing in AI have the potential to produce more progeny and therefore have greater reliability of traits.

As helpful as it is to have the information of a sire’s DBI, it should only be used as a guide. You also need to examine other factors such as the calf’s physical traits and health – along with knowing the breeding of the calf’s dam.

Also Read: How does the Dairy Beef Index work?