Farm Ireland

Wednesday 24 April 2019

Suckler herds can reduce emissions by 10pc if they focus on producing more carbon efficient cows - ICBF

Suckler cow and calf
Suckler cow and calf
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Suckler herds can reduce their Greenhouse Gas emissions by 10pc over the next 20 years if they use genetics to produce profitable and carbon efficient cows.

ICBF’s Dr Andrew Cromie told farmers and delegates at the organisation's beef conference in Athlone that instead of being blamed, all farmers can play a part and produce carbon efficient as well as profitable animals if they focus on implementing the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) in their herds.

“There is an opportunity to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions by 10pc over the next 20 years within the suckler beef industry. It doesn’t sound like much but if everyone does their small part, we can be more profitable and have more carbon efficient cows too,”said Dr Cromie.

“If we have the right traits we can select cows that are lower in emissions and this is important to move to the 10pc target.”

Dr Cromie said that that there is an opportunity to produce less heavier animals that produce less methane that intake the same amount of feed and if Irish farmers could achieve this it would be "win-win for farmers and the environment".

Dr Cromie pointed out that to achieve this it will be key to positively engage bull breeders to ensure these carbon friendly traits are passed down to progeny.

“It will be crucial to engage with farmers and bull breeders. We need bull breeders at the top of the pyramid generating genes that go down in to the suckler herd. Unless we have bull breeders engaged then we will fail,” he said.

“We have a model here that has collective stakeholders. We need to work closely with breeders to help identify top breeds that help to move the industry in the right direction.”

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Dr Cromie outlined that carcass weights in the suckler herd have increased by 8-10 kilos in recent years which he said has been driven by focusing on terminal traits and has been worth an overall €569m to the beef industry and equates to €33 per cow per year.

He also explained that while the growth rate of cows has slowed down in recent years, it is increasing and that without the BDGP there would be bigger cows but they would be less fertile and less profitable.

“By focusing on the BDGP the value of maternal gain to suckler herds over the next 15 years is €540m.”

ICBF's Pat Donnellan added that heavier cows require increased energy usage and costs for farmers which needs to be taken in to account when thinking about our carbon footprint.

“We have very small herd sizes in Ireland, so data on weights is scarce. A French study on Charlorais cows showed that a 900kg cow required 40pc more energy to keep her going than a 600kg cow. The larger the cow the greater the energy needed.”

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