Farm Ireland

Friday 23 March 2018

Breeding on dam side stuck in the Dark Ages

May Day triplet calves born on the Dwyer family farm at Moyadd, The Swan, Co Laois. With the two heifer and one bull calves are Seamus Dwyer with his son-in-law PJ Kelly and grandsons Jamie and Jeremy Kelly
May Day triplet calves born on the Dwyer family farm at Moyadd, The Swan, Co Laois. With the two heifer and one bull calves are Seamus Dwyer with his son-in-law PJ Kelly and grandsons Jamie and Jeremy Kelly

Robin Talbot

Ground conditions have become extremely dry and hard and, at the time of writing, we have just had our first rain for several weeks.

Coupled with a harsh wind, the dry spell has slowed up grass growth and the recovery of paddocks. Even so, we took a few paddocks out of the rotation this past week as ungrazed paddocks had become quite strong and I would still be confident that we have 18-20 days' grazing in front of the cows.

Though ground conditions have been extremely dry we have continued to spread fertiliser, so I would hope that the arrival of rain will quickly see grass growth take off again. The fields that are closed for silage seem to be growing very well so we might have a look at bringing forward our cutting date.

We weighed a batch of bull calves this week to see how they are thriving. There was a spread in weights from 330kg up to 415kg. These calves would always have been in the same batch and would have received the same feed and treatment.

One thing that struck me was the difference in average daily gain between calves out of broadly similar cows.

These figures show that there is a difference of 0.3kg/day average gain since birth between the top performers and the bottom performers.


This means that calves with the best weight gain, in the first year of their life, will have put on over 100kg more than others. And, at a weanling price of €2.50/kg, it means that some cows are generating €250 more per annum, with a similar level of inputs.

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This is, I think, a serious issue for the beef industry in general and suckler farmers in particular. We need to be able to identify breeding stock capable of higher production performance.

Why I am thinking about this at the moment is that we have just bought some in-calf heifers. We bought them from two different farmers. Both lots of heifers had been bought by the farmers in the marts with the intention of putting them in calf and selling them as springers.

Both farmers were also able to give me scan dates for the heifers, which is always very helpful, but there was no information available to them or me on the genetic merit of those heifers. This has to change.

I really think beef breeding on the dam side is in the dark ages. There have been reports on two sales of cows in the press in recent weeks. One was a dairy cow sale where all the cows were listed with their EBI and the price they made. The other sale was for suckler cows and there were no breeding figures available for these cows.


The suckler farmer is at a serious disadvantage when buying breeding stock, because there is no genetic information available. He doesn't know if the stock is genetically any better than the cows he is culling.

Teagasc tell us that, to increase our income, we must increase our output. I wouldn't argue with that, but I would suggest that this has to start with increased output per individual cow.

We have seen how dairy farmers have made tremendous strides through selective breeding and the use of latest breeding information to increase output/profit from their cows.

ICBF has delivered for dairy farmers. They have done a lot of work too on pedigree beef breeding, both on the bull and dam side. There are also figures available if a commercial beef farmer wants to buy a pedigree stock bull, so the next step we need is genetic information about the suckler cow.

ICBF now needs to deliver on this as a priority.

I know there is a lot of work being done in this regard but we as individual suckler farmers need to put pressure on the farm organisations and the breed societies to bring this to fruition.

Robin Talbot farms in partnership with his wife Ann and mother Pam in Ballacolla, Co Laois

Indo Farming