New Year, New Me! – 5 things for every beef farmer to consider in 2019

Thinking about your New Year’s resolutions? Here are 5 achievable tasks that every beef farmer should consider setting themselves for 2019.

  1. Join HerdPlus

This is something which a lot of beef farmers may have already done, but for those who have not, it is a must for 2019. For €60 per year HerdPlus gives you access to:

  • Performance reports (calving, beef output, weaning performance, etc)
  • Profiles (Euro-Star, expected calving, fertility, etc.)
  • Stock reports which are useful for doing accounts.
  • Recording screens (weights, inseminations, birth events, etc.)
  1. Start weight recording animals

Beef farmers sell two things. Kilogrammes of liveweight and/or kilogrammes of deadweight. There are huge benefits to weighing beef animals on farm. These include:

  • Better management of stock.
    • Quickly identify the best and more importantly, poorest performers in the herd.
    • Identify health problems
    • Identify potential issues with feed quality
    • Penning animals by weight
    • Selecting animals for sale/slaughter
    • Birthweights provide important data on calving difficulty.
  • More accurate Euro-Star Indexes

Submitting on farm weights to ICBF is hugely beneficial to the reliability of the Euro-Star Indexes. It allows ICBF to better estimate the animals genetic merit for growth but also a cow’s genetic merit for milk production (milk is measured in a suckler cow through the weight of her calf). The proposed new Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot (BEEP) programme will pay farmers to weigh suckler cows and their calves. Once cows and calved are weighed you can generate a Weaning Performance Report for your herd.

Weighing animals on farm leads to better management decisions and more reliable Euro-Star indexes.

  1. Use Euro-Star Indexes when selecting replacement females

Once happy with the visual attributes of a group of potential replacement heifers (functionality, docility, etc.), a farmer should then look at their Euro-Star Indexes. Ensure that all heifers are genotyped so that parentage is verified, and you can select heifers with more confidence due to higher reliabilities. Try to select heifers with the highest Replacement Indexes with a good balance between maternal (milk and fertility) and terminal (carcass weight and conformation) traits. All of this information is available in the HerdPlus Euro-Star report.

Use your HerdPlus Euro-Star report when selecting replacement females. The section above lists the highest Replacement Index heifers in the herd.

  1. Ensure any new stock bulls have a genomic evaluation and are performance recorded

A lot of stock bulls will be purchased in the lead up to the spring 2019 breeding season. We often read about important things to check before purchasing a stock bull such as assessing the bull’s feet and legs and general functionality, his temperament and scrotal size. These are all very important items on the checklist. You should also ensure that the bull has a genomic evaluation. This is particularly important if you are a participant in the BDGP. If purchasing a bull at a pedigree sale, look out for the genomic evaluation symbol in the top right corner of the catalogue page. If purchasing a bull privately off farm, check the bull’s index on the ICBF Animal Search app. This will clearly show if the animal has a genomic evaluation or not. You should avoid buying stock bulls that are not genotyped. Try using the ICBF Stockbull Finder to source a stock bull. This application lists bulls in herds which are performance recording animals with ICBF. Genotyped, performance recorded bulls have high reliabilities and are less likely to see their index figures move significantly in future

Example of a pedigree sale catalogue page. The ‘WHPR’ logo is in the top right which means this animal is from a performance recorded herd and the animal itself has been weighed and scored by an ICBF linear scorer. The ‘Genomic Evaluation’ logo is also included meaning this animal has genomics included in its Euro-Star Index.

The ICBF ‘Animal Search’ app shows whether an animal has a genomic evaluation. If purchasing a bull privately, make sure to check that he has a genomic evaluation before agreeing to buy.

  1. Consider using AI

Approx. 20% of suckler calves born each year are sired by AI bulls. While AI is more labour intensive than a stock bull, it has huge benefits such as:

  • Access to elite genetics for a relatively low investment.
  • Ability to use a team of bulls therefore spreading risk.
  • Access to proven easy calving bulls for heifers.
  • Ability to pick and choose bulls for individual cows depending on their strengths and weaknesses.

While using AI may not seem like a realistic target in your herd it is definitely something that should be considered.