‘This is not an image that we want to portray for Irish agriculture’

In light of the expanding national dairy herd and the ever-increasing amount of beef calves being generated, the Dairy Beef Index (DBI) was developed – by the ICBF and Teagasc – to promote high-quality beef cattle bred from the dairy herd that are more saleable as calves and profitable at slaughter.

In the dairy edge podcast – run by Teagasc and presented by Emma-Louise Coffey – the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation’s (ICBF’s) Dr. Andrew Cromie discussed the new DBI and what benefits it can bring to beef and dairy farmers, as well as the industry as a whole.

Firstly, Andrew explained what the DBI is and the reasoning behind its development.

“The DBI is focused on generating beef calves from the dairy herd which are not going to cause problems for dairy farmers – in terms of easy calving and short gestation.

“But also critically generating a calf that the beef industry wants to take on and rear through to slaughter; I think that has been one of the challenges we have had in the past in this dairy beef discussion.”

Traditionally, “the primary focus of the dairy farmer has been on selecting beef bulls for their dairy herd based on easy calving and short gestation traits”.

The outcome of this has been that “year-on-year we have been generating beef calves from the dairy herd which the beef industry is finding more and more difficult to finish profitably – in terms of carcass weight and conformation”.

Making a margin

He then pointed out why beef farmers are finding it difficult to make a profit from these calves.

“The amount of farmers getting into the O category – which is the minimum requirement to get you a QPS bonus and a premium – is decreasing and if they don’t hit that they are down 20-25c/kg.

“On a 300kg carcass, that is €70 or €80 which is the difference between making a margin in beef and not making a margin.

Increasingly, the beef calves we are generating are not reaching that minimum spec.

“The result is beef farmers are struggling to make a margin, and so their willingness to buy these calves from the dairy herd is falling. For the dairy industry this is creating a difficult challenge,” he added.

Sustainability

Finally, Andrew addressed the question on what the effect of using this DBI will have on our overall agricultural industry.

We are all talking about sustainability a lot now and to have sustainable dairy production we need to be generating calves that the industry can take.

“The biggest challenge that we have to face in that conversation is this increasing reference to social licence.

“While some industries have slipped down the route of developing bobby-calf systems to take these calves away, this is not an image that we want to portray for Irish agriculture.

We have a green image, a high health status and we export a lot of product; so, we really need to protect that – to do this we have to think about these calves we are generating.

Andrew also emphasised the importance of looking at the issue in a “broader context” and encouraged farmers to do so.

“It’s not just about getting the calf off the farm and milking the cow. Yes we have to do this, but we can actually do this while focusing on some of these beef traits that ultimately rearers and the beef processing industry want and need if they are going to make a margin.

“If not they will not be there to rear the calves and that is the challenge that we are currently facing.

“If we don’t address these broad industry issues, they are just going to become bigger and bigger and more difficult to address. So, this is the start of a process of change for dairy farmers,” concluded Andrew.