Farm Ireland

Thursday 26 April 2018

We need to know stocks' genetic merit

Current bought-on-looks system has major flaw

Farmers have given strong backing for some form of coupled payment
Farmers have given strong backing for some form of coupled payment

Robin Talbot

The question that a lot of suckler farmers -- myself included -- ask themselves is 'what is the right breed of cow?' But when you think about it, we are actually asking the wrong question. The right one should be 'what is the right type of cow?'

The first thing we have to decide is what is the job of the suckler cow. I would suggest that her job is to contribute in a meaningful way to the family farm income. The only way she can do that is by producing a weanling of a sufficient value to cover her keep with something decent left over.

To do this, she must produce a live calf every year. The calf itself must be of a sufficient quality and have a sufficient growth rate to maximise his value. After all, this is the only income she will generate in that year.


Over the years on this farm we have had most breeds and types of cows but our herd has evolved into predominantly Limousin-cross cows. These have all been bought as maiden heifers in the local marts and I feel that this could be a significant flaw in our system.

That is because the heifers are bought on looks. So we aim for a good R-grade heifer but we have no knowledge of her background or genetics.

We all know the story: you can have two cows with almost identical physical traits but one may make an excellent suckler while the other turns out to be ordinary.

This is where the genetics comes into play.

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I would really love to see the marts and the breed societies come together and run breeding sales for heifers whose Suckler Cow Breeding Value is three-star or better. I strongly feel that the breed societies have far more to fear from bad breeders in their own society than good breeders in another society, and I really believe they could work together on this for the good of the industry.

It would be every suckler farmer's dream to be able to go to a sale of breeding heifers and know that they were all there on their genetic merit not because of their breed.

Indo Farming

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