What does the Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot involve?

The Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot (BEEP) was launched by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, on Wednesday, January 30, 2019.

€20 million has been made available by the department for the pilot which will involve recording the weights of suckler cows and their calves. A payment of up to €40/calf will be paid once the data has been submitted successfully.

The aim of the pilot is to increase economic and environmental efficiency in the suckler herd through better quality data on herd performance, supporting decision-making on farm.

The pilot will be open to all suckler beef farmers who commit to completing the mandatory action required within the duration of the pilot.

  • All calves being submitted for weighing must have been born between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019;
  • The unweaned live calf and dam must be weighed on the applicant’s holding, individually and on the same day;
  • Only scales registered in accordance with the pilot terms and conditions may be used;
  • The weights must be submitted between March 8, 2019 and November 1, 2019.

Speaking at a recent event, the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation’s (ICBF’s) Chris Daly shed some light on the pilot and answered some queries that some farmers may have.

“Traditionally, there are very low levels of weighing on beef farms – less than 2% of weanlings and less than 1% of cows every year.

“Compared to the national dairy herd – where 50-60% of the herd is milk recorded – the performance in the national suckler herd is very low; unless you are managing something, it’s very hard to make management decisions or genetic gain.

“The department wants to get more weights on suckler cows and calves to improve the genetic indexes on stock and to help farmers with management decisions on farm,” Daly added.

Important dates:
  • Eligible animals: Beef breed animals born between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019;
  • Applications: February 4, 2019 to February 22, 2019;
  • Submission of weights: March 8, 2019 to November 1, 2019;
  • Payment: December 2019.

Continuing, he said: “Any herd that is in the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) will have gotten a form in the post. If you are not in that programme, you can sign up online or ring the department in Portlaoise and get a form in the post.

“It’s a one year pilot so you are not tied in. But, if you don’t want to take part anymore after sign up, there will be no penalties for not submitting information.

“The sole purpose of the programme is to get weights to increase weight gain for genetic evaluations. And what that does is, it increases the reliabilities on the €uro-Star indices.

“The higher the reliability, the less fluctuation and when you go out to buy a new bull or breeding heifers, you can buy them with more confidence based on the figures.

“The calf must be still suckling the cow; they can’t be weaned. We want calf weights when they are still on the cow because the calf weight gives us an indication as to the milking potential of the cow.

“Cows and calves only have to be weighed once, but they have to be weighed on the same day. Once you get the weights, they have to be submitted to the ICBF within seven days,” the Cork man explained.

How will I weigh my animals?

Animals must be weighed on farm using a weighing platform and indicator. The platform is placed in a cattle race and animals are weighed as they pass over it.

An owned or borrowed scales can be used or a scales can be rented; borrowed or owned scales will have to be registered with ICBF before weighing can be done.

More details regarding the renting of scales will be available over the coming weeks. Weights must then be submitted to the ICBF database via paper forms or online, Daly said.

Many farmers have expressed concerns when it comes to weighing their cows and calves. However, Daly noted that weighing suckler cows is actually quite a straightforward process.

“Every farmer is obliged to have adequate handling facilities for their animals for TB testing; these same facilities can be used for weighing. The animal is not actually being treated for anything during the weighing process, so it is relatively stress free.”

Touching on the weighing of pregnant cows, he said: “The optimum time to weigh a suckler calf is approximately six months-of-age. At six months, the calf’s dam will be no more than 4-5 months pregnant.

“Both cow and calf must be weighed on the same day, so cows will not be heavily pregnant when they are being weighed as part of BEEP.”

Why weigh cows and calves?

According to the ICBF, two of the most significant traits in the €uro-Star replacement index are milk and cow liveweight.

The milking ability of suckler cows is measured by the pre-weaning weight gains of their calves. Cow liveweight is measured by recording the weight of suckler cows post calving.

Recording liveweights on both suckler cows and their calves will allow farmers to identify their most efficient cows, as well as helping ICBF to improve the reliabilities of important traits in the €uro-Star Index.

“Weight information is very important. If you are a beef farmer, you are either dealing with kilograms of liveweight or kilograms of deadweight or maybe both.

“And, unless you are recording information, it’s very difficult to make management decisions. If you weigh animals mid-season, and you find out that they are not performing, then you can intervene and make management decisions – there could be health issues or there could be feed issues, but at least you know what is going on.

“This data will have a huge impact on the replacement index and it will make it much more accurate. And, you will be able to identify your best and worst performers and take action based on that information.”

Commenting on some of the negativity and criticism that heavy suckler cows will be penalised, he said: “If you have a heavy cow, it’s no problem providing she is giving you a heavy calf as well; it has to be in proportion.

“Heavy cows are not going to be penalised across the board; if she is giving that heavy weanling, she’s going to be rewarded for it. It’s the very heavy cows that are giving a poor weight at 200 days, they are the ones that are going to be penalised – heavy cows eating a lot and giving a poor weanling on top of it,” he concluded.