Should I buy in or breed my own replacements?

Selecting or breeding replacements is an extremely important job on suckler farms. These animals will continue on to be the backbone of the herd in the future and farmers must ensure these animals will perform.

There are some key questions that suckler farmers need to ask themselves before setting about breeding or buying replacements for their sucker herds.

This was the message from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation’s (ICBF’s) Chris Daly when he spoke at Teagasc’s BEEF 2018 event.

He said: “It depends on the farmer’s own situation, how big the herd is and the production system on the farm. Maybe it is easier for the farmer to buy in replacements.”

However, Chris highlighted that buying in replacements can be a risky business in terms of biosecurity. He also noted that farmers are in less control of the genetics when they purchase stock.

What is the genetic merit of the herd?

Chris said that farmers need to question the genetic merit of their herd when it comes to breeding replacements.

“If it’s very low, they should go to a herd that has a high genetic merit and get that initial injection of strong genetics,” he explained.

“This is a good idea. If there is too much of a generational gap, it may take two or three generations to get to where the top-performing herds are at.

“Whereas, if replacements are bought from the top-performing herds, some of the generational gap will be taken out. Once you get there, then you look at breeding your own replacements. Again, it very much depends on where an individual herd is at,” he added.

Is AI an option?

Genetic information is available to help farmers identify animals that have superior genetics that can – in turn – increase the profitability of the offspring they are producing.

By using AI, farmers can select their best cows and mate these with high-replacement index sires.

Touching on this, Chris said: “24% of our suckler herd is AI bred. AI use in the dairy herd – in terms of their replacements – is close to 60%; we are lagging very much in genetic gain because of this.

“AI gives us lots of options. Farmers can pick a bull for a particular cow depending on where that cow is strong or weak.

“There is also less risk; farmers can use a team of sires. If a farmer has 20 cows – taking a 60-70% conception rate into consideration – that herd is going to need 30 straws to get all the herd in calf; there is no reason why four or five bulls can’t be used,” he concluded.