Smaller suckler cows can breed heavier weanlings, a new analysis of the BEEP scheme data has found.
The scheme was launched last year to subsidise the weighing of approximately 780,000 cow and calf pairings in a bid to find more efficient cows.
An analysis of the data by Teagasc’s Alan Twomey found that as a suckler cow’s ranking on the Replacement Index increases, cow liveweight decreases and calf weaning weight increases.
Looking at the differences between the 5-star and 1-star groups he found that 5-star cows were 24kg lighter and produced calves that were 8kg heavier at weaning resulting in a cow/calf weaning percentage which is 3pc higher.
As part of this analysis all cows were adjusted to the same parity in order to remove the effect of age on cow performance which is non-genetic (e.g. a mature fifth calver will have an advantage over a first calver).
“It was often believed that you needed a big cow to produce a big calf, but that is not always the case, there are always outliers. They are the outliers that are needed for an efficient suckler herd,” said Mr Twomey, adding that a bigger cow will eat more, cost more and produce more methane.
“In other words, big cows will eat into the famer’s pocket, while also polluting the environment.
For example, if cow A and cow B both produced 300kg weanling yearly but Cow A is 50kg heavier, then Cow B is more economically and environmentally efficient,” he explained.
Lower costs/higher outputs
He said, one of the main objectives of the replacement index is to identify these cows, cows with a lower cost but higher output and based on the BEEP data the index on average is finding the more efficient animals.
Based on the data the ICBF has said maintaining the extra 24kg
of cow liveweight of an average 1-star cow will cost suckler farmers €18.90 over the course of a year.
Meanwhile, the 8kg extra weaning weight produced by 5-star will also generate more revenue.
Even at a modest weanling price of €2/kg this equates to €16 per cow and over a 20 cow herd, an extra €320.