With dairy cow numbers increasing and suckler cow numbers decreasing, beef from the dairy herd is becoming more and more important.

In any business, it’s essential that the raw materials are right and it’s the same with beef farming.

If you don’t have the right genetics to work with from the start, it’s very hard to make any profit.

Last week’s budgets from the Thrive programme proved that, even when working with the best genetics available.

Dairy farmers need beef farmers to rear calves from the dairy herd and both should be working together to ensure that the two sectors can make a living out of their respective industries. There are many things that are outside of our control, but using better beef genetics is firmly within the farmer’s control and faster progress is needed.

Table 1 outlines some calving statistics from the dairy herd in 2020.

Overall, the trends are very positive and there appears to be a shift away from Jersey genetics.

Calf mortality figures are reducing, which is a big positive for the industry.

One area for big improvement is the number of calves being registered in the dairy herd with no identified sire. Of the beef calves born from dairy cows in 2020, 19% were by an AI sire, 36% were by a stock bull and 45% were registered with no recorded sire. This makes genetic evaluations difficult when thousands of animals’ performance records are being lost each year because no sire is recorded at birth.

DBI moving in right direction

The dairy beef index (DBI) was launched in 2018 by the ICBF to increase the quality of beef calves coming from the dairy herd, while not compromising on gestation length or calving difficulty. There has been a big push from the ICBF, Teagasc and AI companies to use the index.

While progress has been made, it’s been slow with a number of the top 10 beef bulls being used on the dairy herd still negative for carcase weight.

After sitting at 17% for 2017, 2018 and 2019 beef AI usage on the dairy herd increased to 19% in 2020. The list is dominated by traditional breeds, with 70% of the top 25 bulls Aberdeen Angus or Hereford. Table 2 outlines the changes in DBI and sub-indexes between 2018 and 2020.