ICBF recently had the opportunity to discuss the many positive outcomes from implementation of the Beef Data and Genomics Program (BDGP) to the Dail Agricultural Affairs committee. The submitted material, including supporting slides presented on the day are attached below.
The BDGP forms part of Ireland’s Rural Development Program 2014-2020. It was introduced by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine in 2015, with the objective of using genetics/genomics to address the decline in key maternal traits within the National suckler herd – and in doing so improve the profitability and carbon efficiency of our suckler beef herd. At this stage, there are 24,000 farmers and 550,000 cows participating in the scheme.
The highlights from the implementation of the scheme to date, can be summarised as follows;
Significant improvement in key maternal traits
Key metrics such as calves/cow/year, calving interval and age at first calving are all now moving in the right direction. The most notable example is calves/cow/year which has moved from 0.80 in 2014 to 0.87 for 2017, which across the 24,000 scheme herds represents an additional 40,000 calves for sale, with a weanling output value of some €30m to the participating beef farmers (see slide 12).
A steady improvement in carcass output from the suckler herd
Despite concerns from some sectors of the industry, analysis of data from meat processors, has highlighted a steady increase in carcass weights from suckler bred animals, with no decline in quality over the past 5 years (slides 14, 15 and 16). Furthermore, these animals are being slaughtered at a younger age (minus 22 days on average). Similar trends are apparent for dairy-beef and dairy bred animals. However, this analysis has also highlighted an overall reduction in carcass weight between 2016 and 2017 (slide 13), but this is then due to the impact of an expanding dairy herd, where carcass weights are significantly lighter (on average 60kg lighter), leading to overall reduction in carcass output/animal for the beef industry.
A reversal in genetic trend for replacement index
After years of decline in key maternal traits, genetic trend for replacement index has now turned around and is generating significant additional gains for participating beef farmers (slide 10). Already this gain is worth some €80m to participating beef farmers (in terms of current and future profitability from these 4 and 5 star females). In addition, gains in terminal index continue to accrue (worth some €580m over the last 15 years – slide 8), which belie the notion that it’s not possible to simultaneously improve maternal and terminal traits in the suckler beef herd. Rather, it confirms that this can be achieved, but that it requires the combination of high volumes of quality data plus the use of latest technology such as genomics to help us identify these superior beef animals.
Confirmation that 5 star cows are more carbon efficient
Validation work undertaken by Teagasc and ICBF on 46 participating commercial beef farms over the past 3 years has confirmed that 5 star cows are; (i) more fertile, (ii) lighter (thereby requiring less feed), (iii) have more milk (i.e., a heavier weanling), (iv) produce a heavier carcass and (v) are more carbon efficient, compared to 1 star cows on the same farms (slide 5). In effect these cows are producing “more from less”, which is completely consistent with the objectives of the scheme, which is to breed a more profitable and climate efficient cow.
In summarising, ICBF noted that it was most reassuring to see maternal traits now improving in the National suckler herd, along with the continued gains in terminal traits. On that basis, the scheme was an excellent example of success for DAFM, the beef breeding industry and beef farmers.