The Irish Suckler Cow in 2030, what will she look like?

The latest addition to the ICBF presentations page is a presentation entitled ‘The Irish Suckler Cow in 2030’ It was presented by Dr. Andrew Cromie at the Irish Farmer’s Journal Beef Summit which took place this week at the Shearwater Hotel in Ballinasloe, Co Galway.

The image above is a typical example of what the Irish suckler cow will look like in 2030.

The cow is a Limousin x Salers x Shorthorn cross, which was bred on the farm of Diarmuid Daly, Islandboy, Co. Kerry. She is by the Limousin AI bull CWI (Castleview Casino) and has a replacement index of €190, placing her in the top 1% of all suckler cows in the country.

She calved her first calf at 2 years of age and has had 3 calves to-date, with an average calving interval of 365 days. She is due to calf again in October 2019. The cow and both parents have been genotyped as part of the Beef Data and Genomics Program, which Diarmuid joined in 2015.

The CH bull calf with her, is by Diarmuid’s herd stock bull, Polar Laurie, who has replacement index of €142 and a terminal index of €157, so a top 5 star bull on both indexes.

Diarmuid is part of the new “Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot or BEEP”, with his Autumn calving cows and calves weighed with his own scales on the 19 April just past. On that date, the cow in the picture weighed 665 kg, and her October born calf weighed 360 kg (at 190 days of age), giving a weanling efficiency for the cow and calf of a massive 54%.

So, why is this story relevant to the suckler cow of 2030?

How different is Diarmuid’s planned breeding program for his suckler herd, to that of ICBF in the context of the National suckler herd? In both cases, we are looking to use all available information, to help identify the best animals (both cows and bulls) for breeding the next generation?

We do this with the objective of ensuring that the new replacement females entering the herd each year, are better than the previous generation and in doing so we make genetic and financial progress.

Diarmuid clearly is achieving on this target, but what about ICBF? How is it fairing? Well unfortunately we can’t give thousands of photographs, but we can present data from the cows and calves on farm, with the most relevant group then being the cows and calves that have been weighed over the last number of weeks as part of BEEP, just in the same way as Diarmuid’s cows and calves were weighed as part of that program.

So, how many people have weighed their cows and calves as part of BEEP in the last few weeks?

The analysis is based on 17,375 valid cow and calf weight records collected from 1,265 participating herds, since the program started in mid-March.

In undertaking this analysis, we have made a number of assumptions, which are relevant for the Suckler cow that we anticipate we will have in 2030.

The first is that cows will be ranked genetically on the ICBF Replacement Index. Secondly, we have assumed that cows will be suckler bred and won’t be secondary outcomes (or bye-products) from the dairy herd. The final assumption is that all animal’s will be genotyped, with this foundational ancestry data, then combined with actual performance data on the animals themselves (through innovative programs such as BDGP and BEEP), to give the most comprehensive dataset globally on the current and future performance of suckler bred animals.

So, what does your cow and calf data say regarding the suckler cow of 2030? Restricting the analysis to just; (i) suckler bred females, (ii) genotyped animals, and (iii) cows with a calf weight record at approximately 200 days, resulted in a dataset for analysis of 6,662 cow and calf records, from 925 herds. This is the average performance of these cows and their progeny.

Looking at the data from the analysis indicates that the average suckler cow on your farms has a replacement index of €89. She weighs 633 kg with a 200-day calf weight of 280 kg, resulting in a weanling efficiency of 44%. These cows are just over 6 years of age and have calved their first at 29.8 months, with an average calving interval of 386 days.

Looking at the carcass performance of other progeny slaughtered from these same cows, indicates that, on average, their offspring slaughtered at 23.4 mths, with a carcass weight of 381 kg and grading U-.

So how does the performance of these cows & calves compare with that of the highest genetic merit animals on your farms? Or put another way the Next Generation Cows?

As a result of BDGP, the average replacement index of first calving females is now increasing by some €7/year. Taking 11 years of genetic gain, this suggests that our average suckler cow should have a replacement index of €166 by 2030. Restricting the analysis to the highest genetic merit cows in your herds (i.e., greater than €150 on replacement index, equivalent to top 2.5% of all cows), results in a sub group of 289 cows, across 145 herds. This is the average performance of these cows and their progeny.

Looking at the performance of these high replacement index cows (with a replacement index of €167) indicates the cows are approximately the same weight as the average cows (at 638 kg) but have produced a 10 kg heavier calf at 200 days. They also calved for the first time 1 month earlier than the average cows and have an average calving interval of 12 days shorter.

Looking at carcass performance of other progeny slaughtered from these same cows indicates that, on average, they have slaughtered a 9 kg heavier carcass with 21 days less feed costs, and at the same conformation grade. Please note the carcass weights and grades here, as this clearly indicates that selection on Replacement index will NOT result in a reduction in the carcass weights and grades of our suckler herd, as is being suggested by some.

Critically also, these cows are more carbon efficient, generating more productive output, from less unit input, thereby helping to ensure a more sustainable Irish suckler herd in the future.

In Summary

Summing all these benefits up, indicates that, on average, these cows will leave an additional €80 more profit/progeny compared to the average cow today and will be generate approximately 5% less total carbon output on a per cow basis.

Across our suckler beef industry, this is worth €1600 for the average 20 cow herd, or €74 million in total in the year 2030. Add in the benefits of using superior terminal bulls and the figure increases by a further €60 again, giving an overall gain per 20 cow herd of almost €3,000/per annum.

Click here to view the presentation in full