Carcass Quality Holding up in the Suckler Herd

Recent analysis carried out by ICBF has shown that carcass performance for suckler bred animals between 2015-2019 has seen a slight increase in carcass weight, with conformation remaining the same. It has been claimed by some that the “quality” of stock coming forward from the suckler herd has been deteriorating and that this decline can be attributed to the emphasis on the Replacement Index since the advent of Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) in 2015. The analysis shows clearly that this is not the case.

As part of the analysis, the performance of suckler bred steers born in BDGP herds was looked at. Herds participating in BDGP have been focusing on improving the Replacement Index of their breeding animals. By limiting the analysis to the carcass performance of steers from these herds, the effect that improving maternal traits through BDGP is having on carcass traits can be examined. Table 1 outlines the results of the analysis.

Table 1. Slaughter performance of suckler bred steers born in BDGP herds and slaughtered from 2015-2019.

Age at Slaughter

Age at slaughter has remained unchanged from 2015-2019. There were two significant increases in 2018 and 2019. 2018 saw very difficult weather conditions with a fodder crisis in the spring followed by a prolonged drought in the summer, while 2019 saw processing plants closed for long periods due to protests. These are environmental factors that undoubtedly affected the average age of slaughter of animals in both of these years.

Carcass Weight & Conformation

Carcass weight has increased by 6kg over the period 2015-2019 and carcass conformation has remained unchanged with an average grade of R=. Animal conformation is often used as the main indicator of animal “quality” by farmers. The fact that it has remained unchanged since 2015 shows that animal “quality” has not deteriorated in recent years.

Euro-Star Replacement Index

The purpose of the Replacement Index is to breed efficient, profitable suckler cows with a balance between maternal (milk, fertility, etc.) and terminal traits (growth, conformation, feed intake). Figure 1 shows the trait emphasis within the Replacement Index. Carcass traits at 21% have a higher emphasis than milk (18%) and are just slightly behind fertility (23%).

Figure 1. Trait emphasis in the Euro-Star Replacement Index. Carcass traits make up 21% of the index.

As the Replacement Index of the national suckler herd increases, improvements will be seen in cow efficiencies through better fertility and improved weaning performance, but also improvements in progeny efficiencies like age at slaughter, feed intake and carcass weight for age.