Suckler herd maintaining quality

Over recent times, many farmers have noted that the quality of stock coming from the Irish suckler herd has deteriorated, with many attributing this loss in quality to the Beef Data Genomics Programme (BDGP) in 2015.

However, recent analysis carried out by Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) has shown that carcass performance for suckler-bred animals between 2015 and 2019 has actually seen a slight increase in carcass weight, with conformation remaining the same.

The research was based on the performance of suckler-bred steers born on farms participating in the BDGP. As part of the programme, these herds have been focusing on improving the Replacement Index of their breeding animals.

Additionally, by limiting the analysis to the carcass performance of steers from these herds, the effect that improving maternal traits through the BDGP is having on carcass traits can be examined.

The results are outlined in the table (below).

Slaughter performance of suckler-bred steers born in BDGP herds and slaughtered from 2015 to 2019. Data source: ICBF

Age at slaughter

Looking at the analysis in more detail, firstly, age at slaughter has remained unchanged from 2015 to 2019. There were two significant increases in 2018 and 2019.

However, 2018 saw very difficult weather conditions with a fodder crisis in the spring followed by a prolonged drought in the summer, while 2019 saw processing plants closed for long periods due to protests.

These are environmental factors that undoubtedly affected the average age of slaughter of animals in both of these years.

Carcass weight and conformation

Secondly, carcass weight has increased by 6kg over the five-year period, while carcass conformation has remained unchanged with an average grade of R=.

Animal conformation is often used as the main indicator of animal quality by farmers. The fact that it has remained unchanged since 2015 shows that the quality has not deteriorated in recent years.

Euro-Star Replacement Index

The purpose of the Replacement Index is to breed efficient, profitable suckler cows with a balance between maternal (milk, fertility, etc.) and terminal traits (growth, conformation, feed intake).

The chart (below) shows the trait emphasis within the Replacement Index. Carcass traits at 21% have a higher emphasis than milk (18%) and are just slightly behind fertility (23%).

Trait emphasis in the Euro-Star Replacement Index. Carcass traits make up 21% of the index. Data source: ICBF

As the Replacement Index of the national suckler herd increases, improvements will be seen in cow efficiencies through better fertility and improved weaning performance, but also improvements in progeny efficiencies like age at slaughter, feed intake and carcass weight for age.