Farm Ireland

Monday 19 February 2018

Cash in on better stock

Improved genetics aids competitiveness and boosts returns

Liam Fitzgerald

Within whatever economic or market environment we operate in the beef business, breed improvement is one of the principal ways of maintaining competitiveness.

Genetic improvement is permanent and cumulative from one generation to the next, as long as there are clear breeding goals and reliable information on the breeding values of breeding stock.

The terms 'breeding value' and 'reliability' have specific meanings in relation to breed improvement. An animal with a high breeding value denotes the ability of that animal to produce high-performance progeny for specific traits. For example, if we take a trait such as growth rate, a bull may himself have a high-recorded growth rate but a low breeding value for growth rate, as determined by the inferior growth rate of his progeny.

Figures on breeding values, such as growth rate, weanling quality, calving difficulty, etc, should always be assessed along with the figure for reliability. This indicates how much confidence we can place in the breeding values for certain traits.

Reliability ranges from 0 to 100pc. A reliability of 80pc or higher is excellent and, in that case, we can expect a bull to breed true to form and do what is predicted by his €urostar index in passing on his true breeding value to his progeny.

Breeding values with a reliability of less than 40pc should be treated with a lot of caution. These may give an indication of the potential of the breeding animal but are likely to change as more information on the animal becomes available.


Beef breeding animals (male or female) are evaluated on the breeding values of the economically important traits by means of the €urostar Profit Index.

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As the name indicates, this puts a monetary profit rating on the breeding value of the animal for traits such as beef carcass, weanling export, replacement value and calving cost, and an overall combined weighted value of all traits known as the Suckler Beef Value (SBV). Indexes are shown for 'within breeds' and 'across breeds'. The within breed index compares animals against all pedigree animals in the breed born in the past five years, while the across breed index compares the animal against all pedigree animals in all beef breeds born in the past five years. The €urostar rating goes from one star to five stars, one being poor (bottom 20pc) and five being excellent (top 20pc) for specific traits.

The table (right) shows the €urostar rating for the more important traits for the AI bull Hollowtree Nicholas (HWN).

This bull has a SBV of €141, which gives him a five-star index and is in the top 20pc 'within' Charolais breed and 'across' beef breed.


The weanling export value of €98 and beef carcass value of €156 again gives him a five-star rating for these traits. And with a reliability of close to 100pc, it indicates that we can be confident that this bull will produce progeny that are above what the average of all beef bulls would produce.

At the other end of the scale, he has only one star for daughter fertility and a €urostar value of -€58, meaning that his daughters -- if kept for replacements -- are well below the average of all beef bulls and in the poor fertility category.

While within the Charolais breed his daughters are good for milk (five-star), they are below average (two-star) when compared with all beef breeds.

The other important trait to note is calving difficulty. This bull, with a calving difficulty of 8.07pc, is about average (three-star) for the Charolais breed but has a higher calving difficulty (two-star) when compared to all beef breeds.

If using AI, you will find this information in the AI catalogue. You should get an up-to-date copy from the AI company. You can also get the same data sheet for a stock bull by going to 'bull search' on the ICBF website,

The reliability of the figures on stock bulls will be generally lower than those on AI bulls since AI bulls have more recorded information on their breeding values than the average stock bull.

Irish Independent