Know your target market to secure highest profits

QPS index and calving difficulties key areas to consider

Liam Fitzgerald

Your breeding policy should be governed by the market you are targeting to supply, so if you sell weanlings it will be the export or home-finisher markets.

The weanling export market is highly specialised where conformation (shape) and growth rate are important.

In that case, the 'weanling export' index is the most significant value when selecting a bull. Growth rate (weight for age) and conformation are important for weanlings produced for the home market, with conformation rising in significance on the introduction of the new pricing grid.

If you finish your own weanlings you should focus on the 'beef carcass' index. This estimates the value of a breeding animal at producing high-value beef carcasses, incorporating high-growth rate, conformation and feed efficiency.

You also need to consider calving difficulty associated with both the bull and cow. Calving difficulty is caused by calves that are too large to come through the birth canal. Calf size and weight are mainly related to the sire. Factors relating to the cow are cow condition score and pelvic size and shape.

Calving difficulty increases with cows that are above condition score 3.0 at calving. Some cows and breeds (eg Belgian Blue) have lower pelvic areas and, in addition, are generally more heavily muscled -- holding the pelvic bones more firmly in place -- which makes calving more difficult.

Putting a heavily muscled bull on a heavily muscled cow increases calving difficulty.

Recently in Kerry I saw hig quality export weanlings being produced from the highest muscled Belgian Blue AI bulls on rather plain-type cows (R=, R- and O+). It appears that, with good supervision and some assistance, these cows will calve U and E-grade calves, whereas if better muscled cows were used there would be a proportion of caesarean sections.

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While using the breeding indexes is very useful when using AI as the reliabilities are high, the same does not hold for a young bull that has not produced recorded progeny.

The reliability of the indexes is generally not more than 40pc on young bulls at the sales.

These are still a useful guide, but when buying a bull you also have to judge the animal by visual assessment -- in effect doing your own linear scoring.

The linear scores on muscle, skeletal and functional traits should be noted. Look for an animal with good width at the withers, a long, well-filled loin, well rounded hind quarters and sound feet.

Also check that the scrotum and testicles are normal. The bull's pedigree, especially the sire, dam and maternal grand sire which are available, will give an indication of its breeding potential and calving traits.

Irish Independent

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