How does the Dairy Beef Index work?

The Dairy Beef Index (DBI) is a breeding goal for Irish dairy and beef farmers to promote high-quality beef cattle bred from the dairy herd that are more saleable as calves and profitable at slaughter.

The DBI ranks beef bulls – for use in the dairy herd – according to their genetic merit for a range of calving performance and carcass performance traits.

On the latest episode of [email protected], Teagasc’s Pearse Kelly sat down with the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation’s (ICBF’s) Siobhan Ring to find out more about the index.

What is the DBI?

The DBI is a tool for dairy and beef farmers to help promote quality beef from the dairy herd.

 Its aim is to give the dairy farmer what he/she wants in terms of easy calving and short gestation, and also give the beef farmers what they want – increased carcass weight and better confirmation.

What are the traits that go into the DBI?

There’s a 50:50 split in the traits that are important to the dairy farmer and to the beef farmer. On the dairy side of the house, we have gestation length – so were looking at short gestation and easy calving and less calf mortality.

When it comes to the beef side of the house, we’re looking at higher carcass weight and more carcasses that will hit factory specifications for carcass weight and conformation; we’re also looking at animals that require less feed to finish and are also docile.

What are the traits that are of most interest for beef farmers?

What we have done is we have split the dairy and beef up into two individual sub indexes. And a very quick guide for a beef farmer is to look at the value of beef sub-index.

That’s a euro value and the higher the euro value the more profit expected from this progeny. The key traits that are in there are carcass weight, conformation, fat and feed intake; the higher the euro value the better.

In terms of carcass weights what kind of range are we seeing between bulls?

If you look at the Active Bull List and look at bulls that have progeny on the ground – the top bulls – the average of these bulls is a 10kg PTA value – and that ranges from -8kg up to 40kg.

And, you have a huge range in breeds as well, with 12 breeds on the list. So, there’s no shortage of options to try.

Why would dairy farmers use the DBI?

Traditionally, dairy farmers have been focusing on easy calving and short gestation, but we need to look at the bigger picture – where are these animals are going to go and are you going to have a market for these calves?

When you select on one or two traits, if you only focus on those, there is the potential that the carcass quality of these animals will deteriorate.

What we have done is combined all the traits that are important for future dairy-beef systems to rank bulls that should be promoted in that system.

In terms of calf price, farmers are able to get calves sold off the farm and get value for those calves. If you are promoting better-quality carcasses, there will be demand for them.

Is there any difference between the indexes on the DBI for stock bulls versus AI sires?

If you take an AI bull – that has a DBI of €100 and stock bull at €100, the value of their progeny should be the same.

But, where you do see the difference is when it come to the reliability of the data that’s feeding into these animals.

Often, a stockbull may only have five or six progeny in one herd, where as an AI bull could 2,000 progeny across 200 herds. Obviously, the number of records feeding into the ICBF database is a lot larger for the AI bull.

So, we’re happier that his figures will stand up over time when these animals are slaughtered.