Higher-rated cows ‘producing the goods’ under BEEP

Initial analysis from the recently introduced Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot (BEEP) scheme shows that higher rated cows are producing the goods.

Speaking on the latest episode of FarmLand, Chris Daly, of the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF), outlined that with weights for an estimated 70,000 cow/calf pairs now recorded early indications look “very promising”.

“About 70,000 cow/calf pairs have been weighed and that is increasing weekly – we are coming into peak season now with a lot of spring cows and calves being weighed.

“The early picture is very, very positive, so we’ve done some initial analysis on the first 40,000 cow/calf weights that came in.

“What it’s showing – bearing in mind that this is before any of the weight data has flown into the indexes of these cows – is that the 5-star cows are coming in on an average 27kg lighter, but they are producing a calf, at an adjusted 200 day weight, of 17kg heavier,” said Daly.

This is resulting in a 5% higher cow/calf weaning percentage than that of 1-star cows, Daly explained.

“There is a new concept for a lot of suckler farmers out there which is a cow/calf weaning percentage – that means you get the calf’s weight at 200 days and you express that as a percentage of the cow’s mature weight.

“These 5-star cows have a 5% higher cow/calf weaning percentage, which is hugely significant because what the index is trying to do is breed a more efficient animal and the target of the sector in general is that per kilogram of beef produced, that we try to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible,” he said.

Below is the performance of cows based on BEEP data. There are approximately 29,000 cow/calf pairs included in the analysis where calves were weighed between 150-300 days.

Cow/calf weaning percentage is the calf’s 200-day weight as a percentage of the cow’s weight. Source: ICBF

Launched by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, late last January, a fund of €20 million has been made available for the pilot, which aims to increase the economic and environmental efficiency of Ireland’s suckler herd.

All suckler calves born from July 1, 2018, through to June 30 2019, and their dams, are eligible for the scheme which aims to get approximately 500,000 cow/calf pairs weighed over a 12-month period – an estimated 20,000 farmers had applied for the scheme by its closing date at the end of last February.

All cows and calves must be weighed on-farm – before they are weaned and with cows and calves being weighed on the same day – using a weighing scales and an indicator. Within seven days of the weighing, the weights must be submitted to the ICBF database within the set time-frame of March 1, 2019, to November 1, 2019.

Once these terms and conditions have been adhered to, all participants will receive a payment of €40/calf in December 2019.

Daly focused in on the environmental benefits of breeding more efficient cows.

“By weighing animals you’re able to identify the most efficient ones.

“We currently have just under one million suckler cows in the country. It’s hard to see where those numbers are going, but what we need to ensure is that for every suckler cow she is producing a calf – so that is part of BDGP (Beef Data Genomics Programme) and producing a more fertile animal and identifying them through €uro-Star Indexes.

“But, we also need to be collecting weight data to identify cows that are moderately-sized. We don’t want tiny little cows or we don’t want very large cows; [we want] a moderately sized cow that is giving a good weanling so that she – from a farmer’s point of view – is financially paying her way, but also – from an environmental point of view – she is justifying her own existence on farm as well,” he said.

IFA

Currently, Ireland’s average calves/cow/year figure stands at approximately 0.82.

“This means there is about one in five suckler cows not producing a calf in a year and that is a big blot in the copybook from the point of view of that one cow.

“She still has to be fed, she is still producing methane; but she is not producing a calf for it – so that is quite significant. So, we need to increase the efficiencies in the herd and weighing animals is a huge step forward in doing that,” he said.

Lighter cows also require much less maintenance, while heavier calves drive output in terms of more liveweight to sell and/or achieving required live weights for slaughter at an earlier age.

In terms of the actual weighing of the animals, Daly says feedback has been very satisfactory there too.

“We have had very few farmers come to us to say weighing calves is a very onerous task – the payment per cow/calf pair is €40 – so it’s quite a significant payment when you consider the workload involved in weighing a cow and calf – provided obviously that facilitates are pretty good.

suckler cows

“Every farmer is required to have adequate facilities to carry out TB testing using a cattle crush; it’s the same facilities being used for weighing so very few farmers have come to us and said it’s a difficult thing to do.

“If you think about weighing cows and calves – and particular cows and you mentioned heavy cows – throughout a cow’s lifetime they go through a crush to be TB tested, if they are sick and need to be dosed or examined by a vet, or maybe they are being AI’ed – they are all quite invasive procedures.

“But, if you think about weighing, all the animal is doing is walking through the crush onto a platform and out again so, of all the reasons that a cow would go through a crush, it’s probably the most stress free.

“Now, I completely accept that it’s another task for the farmer to do in the year but that’s why the department has put in place the €40 payment to weigh the cow and calf to offset any increased labour or challenges that farmers might have,” said Daly.

The average suckler herd size involved in the BEEP scheme is approximately 20 cows, meaning the average payment received is €800/herd.

“It’s not hugely significant; but at the same time it is a relatively significant payment for not a huge amount of work when you think about it at the end of the day.

“It’s by no means going to solve any huge financial challenges in the sector, but from the department’s point of view, for the amount of work that is involved in getting hugely significant data into the ICBF database, to try to make the national herd more efficient, it is a significant payment in that regard,” concluded Daly.

Watch the latest episode of FarmLand in full via the video below:

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