The decline in carcase weights and conformation in the last number of years is an issue for beef finishers who are finding it harder and harder to finish dairy-cross animals to leave a profitable margin.

Dairy farmers have been focused on calving ease and short gestation as the most important traits when selecting beef sires in the dairy herd.

Unfortunately, many of these bulls are negative for carcase weight and carcase conformation.

There has been a gradual decline in carcase weight, carcase conformation and carcase fat cover over the past three years.

Dairy beef calf registrations have increased by 275,000 since 2010. The ICBF has been working on a dairy beef index (DBI) for the last few years and today it goes live.

What is the dairy beef index?

The dairy beef index is a breeding tool developed for Irish dairy and beef farmers to promote high-quality beef cattle bred from the dairy herd.

The aim is that dairy farmers will use the index when selecting beef bulls to use on their dairy herd.

What are the benefits?

1. It will identify easy-calving and short-gestation beef bulls with high carcase merit.

2. Progeny will be more saleable as calves and more profitable at slaughter.

3. There will be minimal consequences on dairy cow fertility performance, milk production, or health.

What does the dairy beef index select for?

High € values for calving sub-index (64% of DBI):

  • Shorter gestation lengths.
  • Easy calving.
  • Less calf mortality.
  • High € values for beef sub-index (36% of DBI):

  • Less feed consumption.
  • High carcase weight and conformation.
  • Low carcase fat.
  • Meet factory spec for weight and conformation.
  • Expected increase

    Each €1 increase in DBI can be interpreted as a €1 expected increase in profit for that bull’s progeny, compared with progeny born to the average Holstein-Friesian bull.

    Dairy farmers who are not keeping progeny may say 'it’s not my problem', but that would be a short-term view to take.

    If dairy beef is unprofitable, beef farmers don’t buy calves and dairy farms are left with the problem.

    Calf welfare issues and questions over the sustainability of the current dairy breeding programme suddenly come into play, so both the dairy and beef industry need to take note.

    Table 1 outlines the top five bulls on the dairy beef index currently on the active bull list. The active dairy beef index bull list can be accessed at