Dairy-beef breeding plan ‘too little too late’

Jersey and Kiwi genetics are now ‘embedded’ in the national dairy herd claims ICSA

A new programme to test the suitability of various bull breeds to produce beef animals from the dairy herd is being put in place by Teagasc and Dawn Meats.
A new programme to test the suitability of various bull breeds to produce beef animals from the dairy herd is being put in place by Teagasc and Dawn Meats.

Declan O’Brien and Margaret Donnelly

There is growing scepticism among farmers over efforts to rejuvenate the beleaguered dairy-calf-to-beef sector hit by poor returns over the past 12 months.

The Farming Independent can reveal that a new programme to test the suitability of various bull breeds to produce beef animals from the dairy herd is being put in place by Teagasc and Dawn Meats.

The joint initiative — which is supported by ICBF and commercial beef finishers — has identified 20 beef bulls from which up to 500 calves will be purchased next spring.

Commercial farmers will then contract rear the calves to steer and heifer beef over the following two years. The meat yield from the slaughtered animals will be measured and the bulls evaluated according to the ICBF’s Dairy Beef Index (DBI).

The initiative comes on the back of moves by Glanbia and Kepak on dairy-beef breeding, following a very challenging spring for calf sales.

Poor beef farmer demand for dairy bulls saw prices halve for Friesian calves, while Jersey and Kiwi crosses were a particularly difficult trade. Many of these sold for as little as €5/hd.

However, the ICSA has questioned why efforts are being made by the meat industry and state agencies to make dairy beef viable while ignoring suckler beef.

‘Magical beef bulls’

“All this talk of finding magical beef bulls to fix the poor conformation of Jersey and Kiwi cross cows is like trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” said ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham.

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However, Padraig French of Teagasc said the aim of the new breeding initiative is to gauge if breeds that have not traditionally been bred to dairy cows are suitable for dairy beef.

While established breeds such as Angus, Hereford and Limousin are among the 20 sires chosen this

year, Mr French said Aubrac, Parthenaise and other breeds will also be assessed.

The Teagasc livestock specialist said that an Aubrac bull is the top sire listed on the DBI at the moment.

“Much of the data we have for the non-traditional breeds comes from the suckler herd,” Mr French said.

However, the ICSA maintains that the breeding plan is “too little

too late” since Jersey and Kiwi genetics were now embedded in the dairy herd.

“It is notable that the meat industry has made no commitment to devising a sustainable model for suckler beef,” said Edmund Graham..

Protected Geographical Index (PGI) status from the EU for suckler beef has to be made a priority, said Mr Graham. He added that this must be part of a bigger plan for branding suckler beef as a high animal welfare, natural and biodiversity friendly product, he said.

“Unless we can target discerning niche markets, there is no future for suckler beef.

“Unfortunately, it appears that the meat industry is already writing off the suckler sector. They are trying to persuade farmers who got crucified with dairy bull beef this spring to take another gamble. We need firmer foundations if there is a future for the beef sector.”

 A spokesman for Dawn Meats said the preparatory work for the dairy-beef breeding programme with Teagasc was still being put in place ahead of a 2020 launch date. “Dawn Meats is working closely with Teagasc and ICBF on a number of farms in the production of beef from dairy calves to identify suitable bulls for inclusion in the Dairy Beef Sire Index,” he stated.

Online Editors