Up to €52m per year will be spent on a new beef data and genomics database (BDGP) for Ireland’s suckler herd.

This has been described as a highly innovative beef data and genomics measure, which aims to support farmers who participate in a programme to significantly improve the genetic quality of the beef herd.

According to the Department of Agriculture, using genomics to increase genetic improvement in cattle, Ireland can further exploit its advantage of a green grass-based production system by producing beef animals that maximise productivity per unit of input and which can also get advantages of traceability and quality.

“This will drive improved genetic performance and production efficiency in suckler herds, as well as delivering improvements in animal health and welfare and environmental sustainability.”

Recent data from the Animal Identification and Movement (AIM) system has revealed a decline of almost 55,000 head (-2.8 per cent) in the total number of calves registered during the first nine months last year.

Even more significantly, registrations of beef calves declined by over 81,000 head (-6.3 per cent) during this period. Meanwhile, the number of calves born which were bred from dairy sires actually increased by more than 26,000 head (+3.9 per cent).

The Department of Agriculture is now establishing a data and genotyping measure to support breeding, quality and potentially traceability activities on suckler farms. The BDGP will build on the beef data programme and on the 2014 Beef Genomics Scheme, which aimed to establish a training programme for the use of genomics in beef.

How will it work?

It will require farmers to: use a tissue tag to take samples form selected animals in their herds; send selected samples for genotyping; record animal events data for calves at stages and submit to the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) to develop a national databank; improve breed quality by selecting stock bulls and replacement heifers of high genetic merit; dispose of BVD PI calves within a defined period.

It was also announced that the ICBF will commence large-scale beef genomic evaluations in 2015 to identify the top genetic merit animals that will be used for future breeding. The cost of the programme is estimated at more than €50m per annum based on €80 per calved cow for 650,000 participant calved cows.

It is also planned that specific conditions to require participants to use high index stock bulls and replacement heifers will be introduced.