About 50% of calves that are born in the dairy herd have sires identified at the calf registration stage, with the majority of those calves that are registered with sires being replacement heifers for the dairy herd.

Numerous reasons for not identifying sires on dairy farms are cited – multiple stock bull use, cows calving at the same time and lack of labour being the most popular reasons given.

The Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) launched a pilot DNA calf registration programme in 2018, with 18 herds participating.

This involved tagging an animal with a special DNA tag and taking a tissue sample similar to the BVD eradication programme.

A separate tissue tag was also applied to ensure compliance with the BVD programme. Since then, more herds have been added to the project and, in 2022, 305 beef herds and 236 dairy herds participated, registering 42,000 calves via DNA registration.

The average turnaround time from birth to registration was 13.5 days

Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal Mark Waters who leads the project for ICBF said: “We have been really happy with the results with the level of unusable or empty samples running at about 2% to 2.5%, which is the industry norm. The average turnaround time from birth to registration was 13.5 days. Sixty seven per cent of calves were registered within 14 days with 93% of calves being registered by 21 days old.”

The average level of parentage and sex errors was 15.5% with a 16.7% error level in dairy herds and a 7.7% sire error in beef herds. Sex errors ran at 1.5% to 2% across all herds.

Commenting on the logistics of the process, Waters said: “We had some issues with postal delays similar to that experienced with BVD samples in the past but, overall, we would be very confident about the scaling up of the service across a large number of herds.”

2023 plans

A total of 597 herds will participate in the project in 2023, 330 beef herds and 267 dairy herds, with an estimated 50,000 calves to be DNA-registered in 2023.

All of the Teagasc Signpost programme farmers will participate in this year’s project. The project is an important forerunner to the rollout of a national programme.

The current cost of €22/sample is seen as prohibitive to the wide scale rollout but this cost is coming down each year.

DNA calf registration is an integral piece in the jigsaw of rolling out the new commercial beef value (CBV) index that ICBF has developed. This CBV index could be a game-changer in terms of changing dairy farmer attitudes to beef bulls that they use on their dairy cows and it could also create big demand for high-CBV calves.

The CBV index will only be displayed on mart boards in cases where the DNA of an animal has been verified. This will mean a low number of mart traded calves will have the CBV available to buyers in 2023.