Confusion over star ratings could lead to 'panic buying'

Inadequate information about stock bulls is posing problems for farmers says ICMSA's Michael Guinan

Michael Guinan advises making a decision by what you see, and not purely by the catalogue when buying a bull.
Michael Guinan advises making a decision by what you see, and not purely by the catalogue when buying a bull.
Michael Guinan

Martin Ryan

Confusion among breeders over the star ratings required to qualify for payment under the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) could lead to "panic buying" of stock bulls which will neither serve the breeder or industry.

That's the verdict from the ICMSA beef committee chairman Michael Guinan, who runs a mixed breed suckler herd, alongside his 70-strong dairy herd at Rahan, outside Tullamore.

"I would be advising farmers not to panic when they go looking for a bull. If I liked the look of a bull with three stars I'd be more inclined to buy him that go for four stars, because I believe that the star ratings are going to change and the bull that has good conformation with three stars is likely to come up when more information on his progeny becomes available," he says.

As a dairy and beef farmer he is concerned that while a substantial amount of information is available on breeding lines in the dairy sector, the data on the beef side is still very inadequate to produce reliable star ratings.

"Some farmers are being pushed to buy stock from the dairy herd for suckler farming. They are getting all the star ratings from the dairy cow and that is not a good place to be starting for a suckler herd if it is beef that is wanted," he says.

"There is a lot of quality in the suckler herd already. A lot of farmers are pleasantly surprised at the star ratings of their cows. For that reason I think some farmers are panicking a little and I would not be rushing out to buy the first bull that I saw unless I liked the bull and he had three or four stars.

"Farmers who are buying bulls on the star ratings and not even looking at the bulls to see what they offer in appearance. They believe that the star rating is everything, but they are not looking at the reliability of the rating and where it is coming from would be of a lot of concern to me anyway," he added.

He believes farmers need to be educated about the selection of bulls under the new regime.

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"There is a lot of confusion as well as to whether they should be looking at the terminal rating or the maternal rating. Nobody has given farmers enough information to enable them to make an informed decision on bull selection based on what they want to get out of the system.

"A lot of farmers are saying that breeders should go the maternal route because they want more milk in the cow and want to get that nice special calf, but the special calf is not necessarily what is going to kill out in the factory at the end of the day and deliver a good return to the finisher.

"The more maternal the traits are the more you are likely to get a good milker, but a narrow animal that is not good for the beef farmer because they will be harder to finish and hard to meet the spec in the factory.

"A lot can depend on what market you are breeding for. If you intend to sell to the finisher you want to get a good return in the factory, you should be looking for a four or five stat bull with a good terminal trait because he will breed animals that will flesh up quicker and to finish better for beef. But the conformation of the bull is still important and appearance should not be ignored - go along the traditional line of how a bull looks in conjunction with the stars shown.


"We all accept that it is important to get the star ratings right if we are going to qualify for the payments in the genomics scheme and the farmer buying a stock bull needs to look at what is in the catalogue, but he should also look at the bull and unless the bull has the conformation he should step back and reassess what the stars are telling him. If the bull has not got the conformation all the stars in the world won't bring out of him the type of progeny that is going to make money for a beef farmer.

"My advice to farmers is to buy the bull that they like. By all means try and make sure that he also has three or four stars but he should make his decision on the bull that he sees on the ground and for what he sees and not solely go by the bull in the catalogue," says Michael.

He acknowledges that qualifying for the payments under the genomic scheme is going to put some farmers under pressure in buying a bull.

"From looking around I know that it is hard to get a good bull with the top star ratings - the bull that is going to be sought by many suckler farmers - they are scarce enough. But there are plenty of good farmers, breeding good progeny and the cows are only one or two star, but they are producing the weanlings that are making the top prices at the sales and that is very important," he points out.

"I have seen the Teagasc suckler herd at Athenry college and they would not be my choice. With an average weight of 492kg I think that is too small for a suckler cow and it limits the option as to what type of bull can be used on the cow.

"That is a maternal cow and if you put a strong terminal bull on her you could run into calving problems because the cow is not physically strong enough," says Michael.

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