Use of top-quality genes from abroad vital to the Irish beef breeding programme

The export market for suckled weanlings gets the limelight but more than 90pc of the 2010 crop will stay on Irish farms.

And while the Belgian Blue/Blonde/Parthenais/Piedmontese type cattle might suit an Italian feedlot they are not the choice of cattle for finishing in Ireland. These breeds of cattle are not best suited to finishing on grass. Neither are they ideal for hacking it on slatted floors.

The CMMS statistics from the Department of Agriculture show that the Charolais is the leading sire in suckler herds at over 40pc of the total. Next come Limousin, followed by Angus and Simmental. When crossing beef bulls onto dairy cows, Angus and Hereford remain the bulls of choice.

While the arrival of the quality payment system (QPS) has put more emphasis on conformation, weight for age remains the biggest factor in income from Irish beef and suckler farming. Growth, coupled with the ability to rear a calf per cow on a 365-day cycle, will define the efficiency of your suckler herd.

There is huge scope for exploiting growth across all beef breeds. Simon Frost, a suckler herdowner in Derbyshire, England, is an example of good exploitation of growth and beef output. Simon buys his suckler herd replacements from dairy farmers who have used a Limousin bull chosen for growth and shape indices.

These are then mated in his herd with Charolais bulls selected from the top 1pc of the breed for growth. He looks for bulls proven to have about average calving difficulty rating.

Last season a group of 56 bulls from Simon Frost's herd averaged 447kg carcassweight at 15 months of age. That's 447kg carcassweight, not liveweight. Admittedly the calves were fed heavily all the way with the cheap feeds and by-products that are available in Britain, but it shows the scope that is in breeding.

In Ireland the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF), pedigree breeders and AI groups are assembling a breeding programme that should produce outstanding beef genetics.

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This will include using genomics to identify top dams as well as the top sires. These will be mated to each other. It is hoped that the top bull calves from these matings will be assessed in the Tully performance test station and that the cream of these will enter AI.

If enough bulls are tested, the exceptional ones will emerge across all breeds. In the batch of bulls which completed their Tully performance test last Autumn the two highest weight gainers across all breeds were two Angus bulls bred by Jerry Henchy in Limerick and John Appleby in Cork.

Both bulls gained almost 3kg/day over the three-month test period. Both were purchased for AI by the National Cattle Breeding Centre but were caught in the IBR outbreak while they were in pre-AI quarantine and cannot now be used for AI. Hopefully their bloodlines remain on the two breeders' farms and other animals of their quality will be found.

It is vital that top-quality imported genetics continue to be included in the Irish beef breeding programme. In the latest group of bulls to complete the Tully Beef Performance Test the top Limousin is by the French-born Arita-Ben and the top Charolais is by the French-born Balthazar.

In the past suckler herd owners kept heifers from within the herd as replacements. This has resulted in a loss of milk from some herds. Doonally New and Indurain, two very widely used AI Charolais bulls were good for beef but their daughters lacked milk.

Similarly in the Limousins, widely used bulls such as Malibu, Hortensia and Mas du Clo have turned out to be scarce in milk.

However, there are now bulls in AI which are good on both terminal and maternal traits. Herd owners can use them for breeding replacements safe in the knowledge that if bull calves are born then these will be top quality as well.

In the Charolais breed, bulls such as CF61, HWN and CF85 are all-rounders. Similarly, in the Limousins, bulls such as FL21, CVV and RBU are suited to terminal and maternal breeding. If you are pure breeding for commercial beef production such bulls would fit the bill.

In their latest Beef Bull Evaluation the ICBF is showing extra maternal information. This is available on the ICBF website The information on the Bull Search on this site is being refined all the time. Keep an eye on it when you are making your breeding decisions.

Irish Independent

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