ICBF and Teagasc to pilot new calf index for spring 2020

A new calf index is set to be piloted next spring in a bid to address the looming influx of dairy-bred calves for beef production.

The index, which is currently being researched by the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) and Teagasc, has been described as a “follow-on” from the Dairy Beef Index (DBI) – a breeding goal for Irish dairy and beef farmers launched last year to promote high-quality beef cattle bred from the dairy herd that are more saleable as calves and profitable at slaughter.

The aim of the pending index is to improve purchaser confidence ringside, with the goal of providing the buyer with an indication of the calf’s genetic merit and its ability to produce a viable carcass down the line.

Speaking to AgriLand, Sean Coughlan CEO of the ICBF said: “The DBI is an index that dairy farmers use to pick a beef bull to use on the dairy herd.

“Obviously, for the dairy farmer calving is still a very important issue – dairy farmers are not going to be able to tolerate difficult calving, so calving is still a big piece of the DBI.

“But once that calf is born it still has an index; the calving piece is in the past. So, for the person that is going to buy that calf, they are really only concerned about its beef merit and how it is going to grow and finish in the factory.

This is effectively an index that will indicate the finishing characteristics for that calf to grow, and what its carcass traits are going to be – carcass weight, carcass fat, carcass conformation etc.

While the full details have yet to be worked out, Coughlan says the “big benefit” for beef farmers will be in giving confidence to the buyer of a dairy-beef calf.

“If you have three black dairy bull calves in the ring, it’s very difficult to tell at three weeks-of-age what they are going to produce in terms of profitability.

“It will give the buyer confidence on what they should pay for the calf because they have more information in terms of the capacity of that calf to grow to a certain weight or by a certain time – and what type of return they can expect.”

For the dairy farmer, he says the benefit will result in the whole supply chain “working better”.

We need better integration between the dairy farmers and the beef farmers in terms of being able to move these calves.

“Then the beef farmer is happy to take these calves because they know there is going to be a return,” he said.

The intention is that the new calf index will be displayed on mart boards. The pilot for the initiative is expected to be rolled out next spring.

The latest Teagasc projections outline that more than 1.1 million dairy-origin calves are set to become available for beef production in 2020.

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