Beef breeders want 'to take their data back' from ICBF

Breed societies could break away from the ICBF
Breed societies could break away from the ICBF

Claire Mc Cormack

Breed societies are considering breaking away from the Irish Cattle Breeders Federation (ICBF) as frustrations boil over on new herd inspection rules.

Despite recent statements that the ICBF had won the backing of breeders for a new Whole Herd Performance Recording Programme to stamp out falsification of breeding data, key breed societies such as the Charolais and Simmental refuse to encourage participation by their members.

The discontent is now threatening to derail the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) as breed representatives called for the landmark scheme to be “parked”.

The latest developments come at a time when ICBF is already battling to save €850,000 of its funding that had been coming from a tag levy paid by all farmers. However, a move to make this optional has resulted in a collapse in the amount of farmers opting to pay.

The ICBF claims it was forced to re-engineer its visual inspection regime following revelations that misleading data was being routinely recorded by pedigree breeders across the country.

The new voluntary scheme requires pedigree breeders to be inspected annually with all performance data, including fertility, performance and functionality, audited independently.

The ICBF claim the move was necessary to identify breeders who are manipulating vital breeding data and build renewed confidence with commercial farmers still reeling from the revelations during the summer.

However, many breeders are refusing to sign up, with Charolais Society President, Kevin Maguire, claiming there was "very little accuracy" in the new scheme.

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"We're not encouraging members to sign up. They brought in a scheme where there is no foundation behind it whatsoever, it's like a kangaroo it's jumping around that much, you could have a five star today and a one star tomorrow," he said.

"From the very beginning ICBF should have brought in whole herd recording and genomics and pay the breeder for doing it," he said.

Mr Maguire is also calling for a "whole review" of the BDGP.

"The BDGP scheme is totally wrong the way it was set up and should be parked. It's promoting very, very, very average quality beef that is going to be in Ireland for the next 8-10 years. Unless there is some reform it's going to be very damaging to the whole beef industry," he said.

The Charolais president also admitted that breaking away from the ICBF had "come up at meetings".

Simmental society president Garrett Behan said whole herd visits are not an attractive option for larger herds and fragmented farms.

"The Simmental Society is definitely not telling anyone what to do but for my own herd I don't see an attraction. Personally it would be costing me around €2,000 to comply with it, a couple of very hard days work for up to 300 head of cattle, weigh all them, score them and pay €5 or €6 plus VAT to do them," he said.

Previously, visits by linear scorers cost €45 plus €5 per animal, before VAT.

"I've been recording and scoring cattle here for 15 years, I don't see why they need cow weights when they have our cull cow data and weanling weight data. For the people in their 60s and 70s, asking them to weigh calves, from a health and safety point of view you're looking for trouble," he said,

Mr Behan, who is a member of four breed societies, said concerns over a move away from ICBF were mooted at another society meeting. However, he declined to name the society.

"I was at a club meeting recently and there was about 60 people in the room and to be honest the gut feeling was take our data back from ICBF and move away from them."

Sean Coughlan, CEO of ICBF said he would be "disappointed" if breed societies choose not the support whole herd visits.

"We worked with the breed societies in terms of drafting this up, we came to conclusion where we had a basis to go forward and I would be disappointed if the societies are not going to support it".

"Ultimately commercial farmers are looking to have confidence in the animals that they are buying and in the figures that support them".

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