Terminal index shows ‘hidden gems’ in store cattle

Using the €uro-Star terminal index when picking animals for finishing can significantly increase farm profitability, according to Teagasc Drystock Advisor, Christy Watson.

Speaking at the Irish Grassland Association (IGA) National Beef Conference held on Wednesday, June 21, Watson said using the terminal index can identify animals with the greater potential to make more profit for finishers.

Over 65% of the cattle born to a beef sire are moved to another holding before they reach 12 months, Watson said.

“The person who breeds the animal generally is not the one who markets that animal at the finish stage.

“So we have a slightly more complicated breeding model,” Watson said.

“At the mart or in the farmyard, can you visually – looking at the animal – pick up all the important traits? You cannot.

There are a lot of hidden gems that the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) terminal index will pick up.

The farmer takes a lot of things into account when making a purchase, such as number of movements; the age of the animal; the potential size they’ll finish at; and health status.

But what the farmer really wants to know, according to Watson, is if the animal is going to make money for them. “That decision has to be made in a very short period of time and it needs to be right,” he said.

The big cost in the finisher system is the price of the store animal – over 70% of the direct cost of production. Watson emphasised the importance of knowing what type of animal you’re buying, as well as its potential.

‘A genetic index expressed in euro’

Watson advised finishers to focus on the terminal index and to ask what the ICBF says about the animal that will be of benefit to them.

The basic make-up of the terminal index is:
  • Carcass Traits – 57%;
  • Feed Intake – 16%;
  • Calving Traits – 25%;
  • Docility – 2%.

Feed intake is the most critical trait, according to Watson. He said: “There is no one in the room who can, from visual appearance, say that one animal is more efficient at converting grass or meal to liveweight than the animal standing next to it.”

There are significant savings to be made from a more feed-efficient animal, which cannot be ignored, Watson said.

Feed intake efficiency is very important and it’s not visible to the eye.

The other important trait from a finisher’s point of view is carcass – what you are paid on, Watson said.

Carcass traits represent 57% of the terminal index. This can be further broken down by weight, conformation and fat.

The index takes all the genetic factors into account and produces a monetary value; a financial ranking of the animal.

An animal with a terminal index of €150 – a 5-star – is expected to leave an additional €100 more profit than an animal with a terminal index of €50 – a 1-star.

Watson added: “So we can now look at a group of animals and see montetary value and potential income linked to their genteic make-up.”