Last week, the board of ICBF approved the implementation of improvements to both the Terminal and Replacement beef indexes following independent technical review and consultation with a focus group. These changes stem from several years of collaborative research between Teagasc and ICBF, on the back of industry feedback and international best practice.

The last review of beef breeding indexes in Ireland occurred in 2015 with the relative emphasis on the individual traits derived by Teagasc. Because of the on-going Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP), the indexes were not updated despite obvious changes in output prices and costs of production. These changes are now being implemented ahead of the commencement of Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme (SCEP).

The fundamental improvements to the genetic evaluations include:

  • Updates to the weights on individual traits to better reflect the markets
  • Inclusion of Carbon to future-proof our breeding policy
  • Inclusion of new traits to better reflect the changing landscape
  • Improved methodology in how animals are genetically evaluated

Update to economic values:

Breeding indexes globally are regularly updated to reflect the changes in output prices and costs of production. The updates to the economic values for all traits in both beef breeding indexes better represent the longer-term outlook on the industry as a whole.

Example – Carcass weight economic value has increased from €3.89 to €4.68

Additionally, the economic cost associated with poor docility has been moved to a non-linear cost. This means that there is an increased economic cost associated with poor docility animals. This improvement was based off farmer feedback and Teagasc research which indicates that 65% of all farm injuries are livestock related.

Inclusion of Carbon:
Considering Carbon in a national beef breeding indexes is a world first and follows the approach taken for the Irish dairy breeding indexes last year. The inclusion of carbon is based on internationally recognised Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and aims to reduce overall farm carbon footprint. Such changes are required by the Irish cattle sector to help achieve the reduction target of 25% in greenhouse gasses from the agricultural sector by 2030. Genetic improvement is a technology that is proven to deliver cumulative and permanent gains in the national herd.

Inclusion of new traits:
In line with ICBF mission, new traits impacting farm profitability and the environmental footprint are incorporated into breeding indexes when appropriate. New traits that are now included in the beef breeding indexes are:

  • Age at finish

The economic cost associated with additional days in the finishing period has long been discussed, however the additional carbon cost has not been quantified to date. The inclusion of the Age at Finish trait will allow an economic value and a carbon weight to be attributed to the trait. This will result in increased profitability and reduced carbon footprint, by reducing age at slaughter for a constant level of fat in animals destined for prime beef production.

  • Carcass specifications

In addition to the existing Carcass Weight and Conformation traits included in the beef breeding indexes, new carcass traits focused on factory specifications have been included in the breeding goal. The ‘Out of Spec’ traits apply to carcass weight, conformation and fat. The move towards ‘Out of Spec’ traits further aligns the beef breeding indexes with national breeding objectives, and results in carcass fat being viewed as an intermediate optimum trait.

  • TB

Tuberculosis (TB) will be included in beef breeding indexes for the first time, with an economic value in the index to ensure a halt in deterioration in TB susceptibility in beef cattle. TB cost almost €100 million in 2020, and Ireland has the highest rates of TB in the EU. By breeding genetically more TB-resistant animals we can help to bring the rates of TB down across the country

Improved methodology

  • Single-step

Single-step is a new genetic evaluation methodology that increases the accuracy of genomic evaluations. In line with international best practice, single-step evaluation will now be applied to the Calving evaluations included in both the Terminal and Replacement Indexes. Single-step evaluation optimizes the relationship between traits, to better leverage the 2.5 million genotypes available to the evaluations and will provide more accurate evaluations.

For more information, sign up for the Teagasc & ICBF webinar on 2nd November at 8pm.