ABP Food Group’s Advantage Beef Programme team members Stephen Connolly and Sean Maher have explained how two yearling dairy-beef heifers, which were virtually identical as calves, have a 80kg weight difference despite having no setbacks and receiving identical treatment.

As part of the Advantage Spring Dairy-Beef Series, ABP’s Advantage farm liaison team are highlighting how farmers can breed better calves by taking a closer look at sire traits.

In the video below, two very similar Hereford heifer calves are shown. Both arrived on the ABP Demo Farm weighing 56kg. While both calves were sired by the same breed of bull, their genetic makeup is completely different.

One calf was sired by Netherhall1 Mind Set (AI code: HE8448) and the other calf was sired by Pute Nascar N13 (AI code: HE5806). While both calves look and weigh almost identical, there is a huge variation in their sire’s carcass weight figures.

A quick look at the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation’s (ICBF’s) Animal Search shows the bull Netherhall1 Mind Set has a -1.2kg figure for carcass weight, while the bull Pute Nascar has a carcass figure of +16.7kg.

While both calves were sired by bulls of the same breed, one bull has a carcass value 17.9kg higher than the other. Both these sires have a similar calving difficulty.

Stephen Connolly added: “The sires of these two calves have very similar calving difficulty but there’s a huge difference in their progeny’s carcass performance.

“The advice is for dairy farmers to select the highest carcass and beef sub-index value sires within the calving difficulty and gestation length that’s suitable for the herd.

“This also really highlights when you’re buying calves, don’t just go on looks alone, knowing the genetics of that calf is critical.”

Weight difference as yearlings

In the second part of the video, Stephen and Sean weigh two yearling heifers from different sires within the Hereford breed and the performance difference is more apparent at this stage.

The first heifer was sired by Sollpoll1 Spark PP (AI code: HE6361). This bull has a Dairy Beef Index value of €77, a beef sub-index value of €72 and a carcass weight figure of only 0.7kg and the breed average for Hereford sires is around 6kg.

Stephen explained that the low carcass weight figure of this sire is more apparent at the yearling stage and the poorer conformation of this animal is apparent. Its sire has a conformation value of 0.47 and ideally should be above 0.6 or 0.7.

The second heifer is only one week older and has been reared exactly the same but was bred from Gouldingpoll 1 Zoro PP (AI code: HE6841).

His DBI value is €119 and his beef sub-index is €91. The carcass value is plus 8kg, which is well above the previous heifer’s sire.

The calving difficulty of the poorer heifer is 4.1 and for the better heifer is 3.1, so the plainer heifer was slightly harder calving than the better heifer.

On the trial farm, 25-30 calves are purchased per bull and there is a 30kg average weight difference between the progeny from these two bulls with the higher carcass value bull’s progeny weighing more.

Stephen said: “As calves, both sires progeny were similar weights and cost a similar price.

“As a beef farmer, you want to be buying more calves from the better sires because you can add more carcass weight, get more carcass conformation and add more value to your carcass for the same level of inputs.”

The first heifer weighed 342kg while the second heifer weighed 422kg, a substantial 80kg weight difference that can be genetically linked.

Sean explained: “That weight gap will get bigger as the second season at grass progresses. These heifers will be slaughtered in September or October and it is expected there will be 50kg carcass weight difference between the two animals which is well over €250 in money terms at finish.”

Progeny from the better genetic-merit beef bulls are continuously performing better at the ABP Demo Farm.

How can better dairy-beef calves be secured?

“As a dairy-beef farmer, the best way to get these better calves is to link with a dairy farmer that has a good cow type and is doing a good job with colostrum management,” Stephen said.

“A good working relationship between the dairy-beef farmer and the dairy farmer is essential when it comes to picking the bulls you would like the calves to be sired by. Both parties will be able to agree on choosing sires that are easy calving and short gestation but have good beef traits.

“As a dairy-beef farmer it’s important not to just buy calves on looks alone; ask the questions, build a working relationship with a dairy farmer,” he continued.

“There are huge gains to be made for both the beef farmer and the dairy farmer when the right bulls are used.

“You can get easy-calving bulls with good beef traits. Dairy farmers picking beef bulls for their cows can select the maximum calving difficulty for their cows, and use the bulls with the highest beef sub-index and carcass figure, the higher the better.”

Farmers who want to find out more can get in contact with a member of the Advantage Beef Programme farm liaison team.