Farm Ireland

Monday 20 November 2017

National suckler herd is going backwards

Eamon O Cuiv
Eamon O Cuiv

Martin Ryan and Darragh McCullough

The quality of replacements in the national suckler herd is "going backwards" a livestock breeding leader has claimed.

Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) CEO Sean Coughlan claimed that suckler farmers are leaving the benefits of improved genetics "on the table" when he addressed the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture last week.

New figures show that the participation rate in the new Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) varies significantly across the country.

Less than 10pc of farmers with herds of fewer than 10 cows in counties such as Kilkenny, Tipperary and Waterford signed up to the BDGP, while the participation rate looks set to be almost three times higher in counties Leitrim, Roscommon and Donegal.

Farmers with herds of less than 20 cows make up three quarters of all the 73,000 suckler herds in the country, but the participation rates were the lowest in the country. For example, close to 70pc of farmers with 30-80 cows have signed up to the scheme, more than double the level among farmers with less than 20 cows.

Cork, Dublin and Tipperary have the lowest overall participation rates, with just one in three farmers signed up to the scheme. Westmeath, Longford and Carlow have the highest rates, with almost half of suckler farmers in the BDGP.

Fianna Fail agriculture spokesman, Éamon Ó Cúiv said that the figures were proof that the scheme had "failed to target support at those who needed it most".

However, the ICBF boss assured politicians that every suckler herd owner in the country will still receive a star rating for their herd before the end of July to provide a clear roadmap on the improvements necessary for the new scheme.

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Mr Coughlan said that 35pc of the herds currently meet the BDGP 2020 star-rating requirements, with a further 15pc currently meeting the earlier 2018 requirements.

Herd owners who receive their herd evaluation within the next three weeks will be in a better position to decide if they want to remain in the scheme, he said. However, Mr Coughlan is confident that the majority of herds can meet the standard required.

Carcase quality

"While the dairy herd is pushing on with close to optimal gains of around €20/replacement/year, the replacements in the suckler herd are going backwards," he told the committee. This is a trend that "they cannot afford to continue," he said.

"In any analysis at a national level, five-star animals consistently out-perform one-star equivalents. Whether that is in the context of weight gain, carcass quality, calving difficulties, cow milk, cow fertility, or any other trait," he said.

On the requirement to genotype 60pc of animals, he pointed out that to ensure the most accurate possible selections for replacement females, "we need to be genotyping all the female calves" which immediately meets 50pc of the genotyping requirement.

Mr Coughlan assured the committee that there were more than enough replacements to meet the requirements.

He said that this was due to the fact that close to 40pc of the females born each year will be four or five star - more than double that required for a 16pc replacement rate.

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