The ’Dairy Beef Index Series’ is a collaboration between Agriland Media and the Teagasc DairyBeef 500 team.

Farming in Kilconieron, Co. Galway, David Gannon is milking 170 cows on a 55ha grazing platform. The land type, which would be typical of the area, contains some excellent clay type soils, as well as a portion of heavy callow soils.

A new entrant to dairy in 2018, prior to this, David’s father Robby ran a dairy farm, but gave up milking in 2004 due to quota restrictions.

In the intermittent years, a suckler and calf to beef enterprise was operated until the farm went back into dairying in 2018. 

The farm is currently one of five focus farmers in the Aurivo / Teagasc Farm Profitability Programme, where David works closely with programme advisor, John McCabe and local dairy advisor, Thomas Murphy.

The farm consists predominately of cross-bred type cows, as David feels these are the best type to efficiently produce high kilos of milk solids from his land type.

Close to 100% artificial insemination (AI) is used on the farm, with an Angus stock bull used to mop up small numbers of the heifers, but going forward, David hopes to eliminate the need for a stock bull, as he feels he will be able to produce better quality progeny with AI.

Breeding for beef

Replacements on the farm are generated using sexed semen on 55 of the best cows in the herd, with the remaining replacements coming from first calving heifers.

Replacement heifers on the farm are synchronised and get conventional Friesian straws.

The reasoning for using conventional semen on heifers is, David feels it is important that heifers calve down early in the calving season to allow adequate time to recover to ensure they successfully go back in calf and remain in the herd.

All other cows in the herd that are not planned on being culled will receive a high merit beef AI straw to produce a quality calf sought after by calf to beef producers.

The herd currently has a maintenance sub index of €24 and a beef sub index of -€29 across his cows, meaning the herd sits at the lower end of national average in terms of the beef merit.

To counteract this, a huge focus is placed on selecting beef bulls. David uses bulls at the higher end of the DBI and more importantly, he pays particular attention to the beef sub index of the bulls used.

Angus is the preferred beef breed, as David has repeat customers every year for between 60 and 70 quality Angus calves.

This year, the plan is to introduce some Limousin and Belgian Blue genetics to further enhance the beef characteristics of his calves, especially at the shoulders of the calving season.

On this farm, it was decided to split the beef bull teams into three periods over the breeding season.

A team of bulls for the first four weeks, a team of bulls for the main calving period and then finally a team of shorter gestation bulls for the latter end of the breeding season.

Some of the bulls are in both teams. This split meant that the gestation length of the bulls would not impact as much on the days in milk for the herd as compared to later on in the season.

It was also felt that the use of high carcass merit bulls at this stage would leave a more saleable calf in late February and early March when a large number of calves comes on stream. 

The plan is to start the breeding season around the first week of May.

Table one:

SireCalving diffGestation lenghtCarcass weightBeef sub indexAI company
LM20143.3%2.8 days28.3 kg€171Dovea
BB72784.6%-2.5 days20.4kg€145NCBC
BB43295.6%0.2 days28.3 kg€169Dovea
AA46383.3%0.8 days16 kg€106Dovea
AA40875.2%1.3 days25kg€148NCBC
AA78003.1%-2.3 days15.7 kg€107Bova AI
AA77972.6%-1.6 days17kg€114Bova AI
AA66823.1%-2.5 days12kg€100NCBC
2024 bull team

David was cautious of using bulls that could cause difficult calvings. The team of bulls selected in had a calving difficulty ranged from 2.6% to 5.6%.

This allows the David to use pick suitable bulls to match the cow depending on her age and size.

Longer gestation bulls were used in the first three weeks of the breeding season with the plan to use a number of limousin straws in suitable cows that showed signs of heat one week before the main breeding season kicked off.

The criteria that the bull needed to get on the team for the cows was a calving difficulty of less than 6%, gestation length of less than three days, a beef sub index of no less than €100 and a carcass weight of greater than12kg.

For the last three weeks of the breeding season, the use of short gestation bulls becomes more important to avoid an unnecessary extended calving period but without compromising on beef traits.

Similar criteria was followed for calving difficult and carcass weight, but for this period, a -1 day or less for gestation length was a must to ensure calving remained compact.

Table two:

SireCalving diff (heifer)Gestation lenghtCarcass weight Beef sub index
AA40896.5-3.6 days9.7kg€102
Heifer repeat sires

Table three:

Week -1Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Week 5Week 6Week 7Week 8Week 9Week 10

Table four:

SireCalving diff (heifer) Gestation lengthCarcass weight Beef sub indexAI company
AA40896.5-3.6 days9.7kg€102NCBC
Heifer repeat sires

Dairy Beef Index Series