The Agriland Spring Calf Series is in association with Teagasc DairyBeef 500.

By Fergal Maguire, DairyBeef 500 advisor

On many dairy farms, the decision of what beef bull to use on their cows is often based on having a very low calving difficulty, along with having as short as gestation as possible.

While it makes sense to use these type of bulls to reduce difficult calvings and increase days in milk, these traits often come at the expense of beef traits such as carcass weight and liveweight gain.

This is resulting in beef farmers rearing these calves struggling to have adequate carcass weights for meat factory specifications, which is having a negative impact on the level of income that these dairy calf-to-beef enterprises can generate.

A struggling dairy calf-to-beef sector is not good news for dairy farmers.


The Dairy Beef Index (DBI) is a tool for dairy farmers to improve the quality of their beef calves without compromising on essential characteristics such as easy calving and short gestation.

The DBI comprises three sub-indexes: Calving sub-index, beef sub-index, and carbon sub-index. 62% of the weighting is towards the beef index and 31% is weighted towards the calving sub-index and the carbon sub-index is 7%.

In Figure 1 (below right) we can see that the calving sub-index is made up of three further sub-indexes: Calving difficulty, gestation and calf mortality, with the highest weighting towards calving difficulty at 35%.

Fig 1: Updated relative emphasis of the DBI. January 2023. Image: ICBF

The beef sub-index is comprised of seven sub-indexes: Carcass weight, feed intake, carcass confirmation grade, spec fat, slaughter age, spec carcass weight and spec .onfirmation. The highest weighting is carcass weight at 24%.

The calving sub-index is comprised of three sub-indexes: Carcass weight, gestation and age at slaughter.

Many dairy farmers will be familiar with the economic breeding index (EBI). The DBI is similar in that it is expressed in euros; the higher the euro value the better.

High-DBI bulls

A bull with a high-DBI should pass on more desirable characteristics to its progeny than a bull with a low DBI. Consequently, progeny from a high-DBI bull should generate more revenue than a low-DBI bull.

In one study, sires that ranked best on calving traits alone (i.e., easy calving, short gestation, and low calf mortality) were compared with sires that ranked best on the DBI.

Bulls that ranked high on DBI delivered heavier and more conformed carcasses compared to bulls ranked best on calving traits alone.

The higher DBI sires achieved the additional performance without increasing the incidence of cow calving difficulty, without increasing gestation length, and without increasing calf mortality.

The additional revenue to the finisher that slaughtered 20 progeny from sires that ranked best on DBI over sires that ranked best on calving performance, was €829.40.

For calving performance, the monetary benefit to the dairy farmer that had 20 calves from high DBI sires compared to sires that ranked best on calving performance was €79.60.

Seamus Commons uses high-beef-merit bulls

However, as there are three sub-indexes that are feeding into the final DBI figure, the top DBI bull won’t necessarily give the farmer the best calf. Farmers will need to drill down into the DBI figures and focus on the beef sub-index to produce a calf that has a high Commercial Beef Value (CBV).

Herds with an average EBI beef sub-index (SI) of -€2 would require beef bulls with a minimum DBI beef SI of €88 to achieve progeny ranking of four-stars under the CBV dairy-beef cattle (Table 1).

Table 1: Minimum required DBI Beef SI of (AA/HE) beef bulls to achieve at least a four-star CBV dairy-beef calf

For a dairy farmer who is aiming to produce quality beef calves, the farmer needs to group cows according to the risk of having a difficult calving e.g. maidens, second calvers or small framed cows and mature cows.

Next, they need to identify the maximum calving difficulty that they are happy with for each group of cows and then select the bull with the highest beef sub-index at this level of calving difficulty to give the calf the highest CBV at the other side (Figure 2).

ICBF dairy-beef bull lists can be found here.

Fig 2: DBI beef AI bulls with a minimum DBI reliability of 25% and a progeny-based dairy calving proof

DairyBeef500 Spring Conference

For those who are looking for more information on how improvements can be made in the genetic merit of beef calves form the dairy herd, the Teagasc DairyBeef500 campaign will be running its third and final DairyBeef 500 Spring Conference on March 22, at 7:00p.m in the Ardboyne Hotel, Navan, Co. Meath

The conference will be of interest to both dairy farmers who want to produce more saleable calves and beef farmers who have dairy calf-to-beef enterprises.

On the day there will be presentations on the performance of the DairyBeef500 Campaign Monitor Farmers and the Dairy Beef Demonstration Farm in Teagasc Grange will outline the key management decisions to ensure calves perform throughout their life to achieve a high level of profitability on farm.

There will be presentations and discussion from both dairy farmers outlining how they have improved the beef merit of their calves and encouraged repeat business from beef farmers and also presentations from calf to beef farmers on what they look for when purchasing calves from dairy farms.