The dairy and beef sectors are intrinsically linked. Approximately 75-80% of calves originating from the dairy herd are destined for slaughter; many are purchased at less than six weeks old. Since dairy farmers are often not directly impacted by the sale value of the animal at slaughter, this can lead to a lack of consideration and appreciation of the importance of beef bull selection. Also, the purchaser of the resulting calf under six weeks of age cannot have any great knowledge of the carcass potential of the animal at such a young age.

The Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF), in collaboration with Teagasc and Abacus Bio, derived a suite of inter-dependent tools to aid dairy and beef farmers in the common goal of achieving a sustainably profitable dairy beef system. All data flowing into these tools originate from the ICBF database, which maintains and utilises data from an array of sources, including farmers, abattoirs, marts, etc. All data used in the decision-support tools are updated bi-monthly as additional performance data become available.

The first tool, the Dairy Beef Index (DBI), was derived to rank beef bulls for mating to dairy females based on their genetic potential for calving and beef traits. Prior to the availability of the DBI, beef sire selection by dairy producers focused on breed, easy expected calving difficulty, and short expected gestation length. Such a single-trait selection approach can contribute to progressive deterioration in the beef merit of beef sires.

The DBI sought to reward bulls on the DBI ranking that produce a live calf with minimal calving assistance following a short gestation. Also favoured are docile, polled progeny that attain an acceptable carcass weight and both a desirable carcass conformation and fat grade from lower carbon emissions.

To complement the use of better beef bulls on dairy females, a mating advice tool was also derived to recommend optimum matings of beef bulls with dairy females where easier calving bulls are more favoured towards females prone to calving difficulty.

The tool also considers the carcass merit of the bull to correct the deficiencies in carcass merit of the female. Farmers can save the results onto their AI technicians handhelds, enabling the immediate identification of preferred bull by technicians on the day of service.

Reliable methods

Potential purchasers need a reliable method of identifying profitable progeny from the beef-on-dairy matings. This should logically facilitate higher market demand for the seller, thus encouraging the dairy producer to use more elite beef bulls each breeding season. Subsequently, The Commercial Beef Value (CBV) was developed to support decisions on how much to pay for cattle destined for prime beef production. Launched in 2022, the CBV is now available on mart boards nationwide for parentage-verified animals, and initial trends suggest a favourable association between CBV and mart prices.

Although dairy producers remain cautious on selecting beef bulls that are acceptable on calving performance, the beef merit of beef bulls used in dairy herds has improved since the inception of the DBI.

This has also translated to a favourable change in CBV trends, which early signs also indicate a favourable trend between CBV and mart prices. Each of these decision-support tools should have a substantial impact on the future sustainability of both dairy and beef sectors.

Taken from the Teagasc TResearch Summer 2024 Publication and written by ICBF’s Siobhán Ring. Click here to view the full publication.