Introducing Grange’s dairy calf-to-beef herd

Thousands of farmers flocked to Teagasc Grange for this year’s BEEF 2018 event. Although the research farm’s suckler herds continued to take pride of place, its new dairy calf-to-beef trial was showcased for the first time to a national audience.

Established in the spring of 2018, the objective of the study is to compare the performance of progeny from sires used on the dairy herd that are divergent in breeding value for carcass weight.

Given the growth of the Irish dairy herd, and the subsequent Holstein Friesian and Angus calves that will become available for beef production, the new Grange dairy calf-to-beef herd is of fundamental importance to the industry and will provide direction and confidence to beef producers.

The calves

The trial was established to test whether genetic selection for carcass traits in sires used on dairy herds will deliver improved performance and profitability under intensive grass-based systems for dairy producers.

Holstein Friesian and Angus bull calves were selected and purchased from commercial dairy farms during spring 2018; the calves arrived on the farm at three weeks of age and were selected from Holstein Friesian cows that were bred only between March 27 and June 25, 2017.

The maximum calving difficulty for Aberdeen Angus sires considered for the study was 3.5%, with a minimum reliability in the overall terminal index for beef sires of 60%.

Three distinct groups of bull calves were established, including: 45 ‘High’ (high carcass weight Aberdeen Angus calves from five sires); 45 ‘Low’ (low carcass Aberdeen Angus calves from six sires); and 45 Holstein Friesian calves (from the four top EBI sires).

The sires

Looking at the Holstein Friesian sired calves first, the calves were after four bulls – FR4021, FR2385, FR2239 and FR2339 – which had an average calving difficulty of 2.25%.

Genetic evaluations (carcass sub-index; calving difficulty (CD); gestation length (GL); mortality (M); carcass weight (CW); carcass conformation (CC); carcass fat (CF); and feed intake (FI)) traits of Holstein Friesian sires. Table source: Teagasc

When it comes to the Aberdeen Angus sired calves, calves were selected from five ‘High’ – AA2037, AA4057, FPI, WZG and ZLT – and six ‘Low’ bulls – AA2123, GZA, JGY, KYA, SYT and ZTP.

Beef production traits for the ‘High’ and ‘Low’ Aberdeen Angus sires. Table source: Teagasc

Animal management

As part of the project, calves will be artificially reared to a weaning weight target of approximately 85kg. At turnout to pasture for the first grazing season, the calves will be strategically supplemented with concentrates (1.5kg/day reducing to 1kg/day) for the first month at pasture.

Thereafter, they will graze only pasture until mid-September, when 1kg of supplementary concentrates will be offered until housing in November.

All calves will be castrated at five months of age. It is planned that the three divergent groups will graze independently of each other.

During the first winter indoor period, calves will be offered high-quality grass silage ad-lib, supplemented with 1.5kg/head/day of concentrates.

In the second year of the project, yearling steers will be turned out to pasture in March and finally housed for winter finishing in late-October. Teagasc plans to finish the steers on grass silage – fed ad-lib – supplemented with 6kg/head/day of concentrates.

Aberdeen Angus steers will be slaughtered at 23 months of age and Holstein Friesian steers will be slaughtered at 24 months of age. All inputs and outputs will be recorded for the systems.