Six of the current top ten Irish bred AI bulls on the ICBF Active Bull List were tested through the Gene Ireland Maternal Beef Programme (Table 1). This is testament to the effectiveness of the programme and its ability to deliver consistent genetic gain for the Irish suckler sector.
The Gene Ireland Maternal Beef Programme was launched in 2014. It is run by ICBF in conjunction with the participating breed societies and AI companies and its purpose is to identify and progeny test elite, high Replacement Index young bulls.
To date, over 100 bulls across 12 breeds have been tested through the programme. With an average cost of €15,000 to test each bull, this represents an investment of €1.5 million by ICBF and the Gene Ireland Maternal Beef Programme in the genetic improvement of the Irish suckler herd.
The steps involved in the Beef Gene Ireland process include:
- Bull Selection
The highest Replacement Index young bulls, across all breeds are identified from the ICBF database. A selection process is then initiated by each breed’s selection committee which is made up of representatives from ICBF, the breed society, AI companies and commercial farmers.Bulls are shortlisted based on index details, pedigree and any other criteria deemed necessary. Bulls are then inspected by an ICBF linear scorer for any physical defects or docility issues. Each bull’s dam is also inspected. This inspection process will further reduce the shortlist of bulls. Each breed committee then reconvenes to select bulls from the final lists.
- Purchase and semen collection
An agreed price is offered for each bull and if accepted, the bull begins the required quarantine period. Having passed the various health screening, the bull enters stud where 1,000 doses of semen are collected from each bull. AI companies have first refusal on the bulls once semen collection has finished. Bulls that are not purchased are sold to farmers through a tender process.
- Progeny Testing
500 doses of each bull’s semen are then distributed to commercial suckler herds. These farmers record important information such as, insemination dates and calving difficulty. Progeny are also weight recorded at weaning time. Daughters that are retained for breeding are then performance recorded. Progeny are weight recorded and the females themselves are also weight recorded to collect important data on weaning weight and cow liveweight.
Bulls that go through a successful progeny test are then returned to the programme as Gene Ireland ‘Graduates’. 500 doses of semen is made available to pedigree breeders to use across their highest Replacement Index cows. The progeny from these matings will be the future elite stock and AI bulls for Irish suckler farmers. Repeating this process will ensure consistent genetic gain in our suckler herd and deliver improved performance and profitability for Irish suckler farmers.