Dairy farmers need to focus more on improving the beef merit from the dairy herd… to ensure there will be beef farmers to rear the increased number of dairy-beef calves in the future.

That’s according to the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) which has recently published data showing that the beef genetics of calves from the Irish dairy herd has been in decline in recent years.

The ICBF data has also shown that carcass weight and carcass confirmation traits of finished dairy-beef cattle have been in continued decline over the recent years.

The federation suggested that the beef merit of dairy-beef calves has been in decline because “dairy farmers primarily select beef bulls that have a short gestation length and are easy calving, without considering the beef carcass merit of the potential progeny”, when selecting beef sires to use on dairy females.

“Consequently, the beef genetics of calves from the dairy herd has declined,” the ICBF stated.

The graph below shows the number of records and Commercial Beef value (CBV) trends of calves born from beef sires and dairy dams since 2005 based on the 2023 March evaluation.

The CBV genetic trends had been declining since 2010 but that has halted since 2019, with the introduction of the dairy beef index (DBI).

The quality of beef calves coming from the dairy herd has also come under big focus in recent times with increased concerns around future live exports and a ban on the slaughter of calves to be implemented in Ireland at the start of next year.

Analysis on the fate of calves has shown a significant increase in the number of dairy-bred calves being slaughtered (+15.95%) and calves exported (+18.4%) this year, according to ICBF.

The finishing performance in Irish factories for carcass weight and conformation of cattle bred from dairy dams slaughtered between 2015 and 2022 is displayed in the graph below.

According to ICBF, utilising tools such as the DBI and the CBV will improve the beef merit of calves from the dairy herd which will help to ensure more dairy-bred beef calves meet minimum factory specifications.

Dairy cow numbers have increased from one million in 2010 to 1.6 million in 2022. This represents an increase of more than 60% in the number of dairy cows in Ireland.

There were 364,570 dairy-beef calves born in 2010 compared to 734,688 in 2022. The number of beef births from dairy cows has doubled and will continue to grow over the next 10 years, according to ICBF.

The cattle breeding database predicts there is expected to be around 900,000 dairy beef calves in Ireland by 2032, further increasing the quantity of beef production from dairy herds.