Results from the ABP R&D farm have demonstrated that, all else being equal, there can be up to a 70kg difference in dairy x beef carcase weight from different AI sires of the same breed.

This is the first round of results from the farm near Tullow in Co Carlow which ABP set up three years ago working alongside Teagasc and ICBF.

The 280 acre farm is being used as a rearing and finishing facility for the ABP trial.

The farm is owned by James and Michael Sheppard and the brothers are currently in year three of a five-year partnership with ABP.

The brothers reared 900 calves last year for the ABP-owned Blade farm programme and finished a further 350 HEX and AAX animals as part of the trial.

Why is ABP doing this?

Angus and Hereford calf births in Ireland have risen by 33% and 42% respectively in the last four years.

This has been a good news story for Irish processors as they build on the back of successful brands such as Hereford Prime or Angus brands, which are easily marketed abroad.

These brands allow processors access to high-end markets which are more lucrative than commodity markets.

Most of this increase in births has come in the dairy herd, as the removal of quotas creates opportunity for expansion. Dairy farmers have turned to these traditional breeds as a means of increasing calf value.

However, as dairy farmers become more and more concentrated on calving ease and gestation length, there is a risk that this will lead to unsuitable genetics being used from a beef production view.

Indeed, average carcase weights are on the decrease. In the first four months of 2017, steer carcase weights were down by 9.6kg and heifers by 4.9kg.

What processors like ABP don’t want is a high proportion of animals falling out of spec in terms of weight, carcase conformation or fat cover.

This project will help identify bulls that are more suited to crossing on the dairy herd for beef production traits. It will also help highlight bulls that should be used in pedigree herds to breed the stock bulls of the future.

The trial

The first batch of animals (364) from the farm were slaughtered at the end of 2016 and early 2017 at ABP Cahir. All were bred from Holstein Friesian cows (135 heifers and 229 steers).

Some 27 AI sires and two stock bulls were used and the preliminary results indicate a variation in performance within breed and across breed depending on the sire.

  • For heifers, the results show a difference of almost 70kg in carcase weight for Angus and 22.57kg for Hereford.
  • For steers, the results a difference of 32.68kg in carcase weight for Angus and a difference of 48.9kg for Hereford.
  • The difference between the best and worst performing Angus sire in heifers is 70kg of carcase weight.

    In value terms this represents a differential of €290 based on current prices, farm assurance, breed bonus and taking into account days on farm.

    For steers the difference is 33kg, which equates to a value differential of €191. The difference between the best performing and worst performing Hereford sire in heifers is 23kg.

    In value terms this represents a differential of €187. For steers the weight difference is €49kg, or €218.

    Feed efficiency trial

    In 2016, 50 steers were selected from the ABP trial farm to enter the Tully Feed Evaluation Centre in Kildare.

    These were the first dairy beef animals to enter Tully for a 77-day feed intake trial. There were 10 sires tested (n=5 each).

    Table 3 shows the two extremes in terms of results. Animals sired by RGZ consumed almost 2kg less feed for every kg of live weight gain achieved than those from ZTP, as well as growing faster and grading better.

    The better feed efficiency represents an improved return of between €50 and €70 for the finisher.

    Health treatments on ABP R&D Farm

  • IBR and RSV PI3 day one calves.
  • Convexin 10 prior to going to grass first season.
  • Lice treatment during calf rearing.
  • Dosing with white drench (endospec) first-season grass.
  • Vaccinated with Bovipast and IBR booster prior to housing.
  • Lice treatment in the shed first winter.
  • Second season Convexin 10 at turnout.
  • Endospec worm dose in August after dung samples.
  • Comment

    The ABP trial highlights the importance of sire identification at the calf registration stage.

    Currently less than 50% of beef sired calf births on dairy farms have a sire identified, which is a massive loss to farmers and the industry given the information ICBF could retrieve to identify new sires that are easy-calving, have a short gestation and have good beef characteristics.

    This trial has shown the difference sires can have on the bottom line.

    With more and more dairy beef animals being finished on Irish farms and with the growth in AA births (234,534 in 2013 to 346,772 in 2016) and HE births (130,702 in 2013 to 205,748 in 2016), the industry must do all it can to make sure revenue is kept within the farm gate.

    Farmers need to be aware that numbers of animals used in this trial are very small and until bigger numbers are put through, proper conclusions cannot be drawn.

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