There is a serious amount of controversy and dissatisfaction among farmers at the moment over the changes that the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) is planning to make to both the terminal and replacement beef indices.

I have to ask the question whether the whole thing is just a storm in a tea cup.

The general consensus among farmers is that the changes will see traditional breeds such as Hereford and Aberdeen Angus improve in their ratings, due partly to the fact that carbon will be included in the new index and these traditional breeds are able to finish at an earlier age, meaning they will be on the farm for a shorter period of time, making them more carbon efficient.

And the ratings for the more popular continental suckler breeds such as Charolais, Limousin and Simmental will suffer.


While this is not strictly speaking incorrect, I don’t feel that it is something to be hugely concerned over either.

Some farmers are worried that they will struggle to have enough of animals in their herd to qualify for the new SCEP scheme and while this is definitely something that each individual farmer needs to keep an eye on, according to the ICBF only 5% of SCEP applicants will need to react down the line to meet their targets.

Also, 84% of current four- and five-star animals are expected to retain their four- or five-star status. The remaining animals will drop, but as many animals will rise as are expected to fall within the breeding index.

So, if we go back to our traditional breed versus continental breed scenario, the gap between say an Angus and a Charolais may close slightly due to certain efficiencies that the traditional breeds may have, but if we look at say the carcase weight or carcase conformation figure, the Charolais is always going to be way ahead of the Angus - it's horses for courses.

Comparing breeds

The across breed figures - which is when you compare one breed to another - might change, but I don’t expect the within breed figures - which is when you are looking solely at one breed on its own - to change drastically; well, no more than they would have done at any stage since the star ratings were introduced at least.

Some farmers still have no belief in the star rating system and while it is definitely true that many a show-stopping animal was bred from a one-star cow, it doesn’t mean that that one-star cow was efficient and that is what the whole thing is about - improving efficiency.

I’m a great believer in science and while there is always an exception to every rule, the amount of science and data that goes into the star rating indices is hard to argue with.

The proposed changes are based on scientific research over a long period of time and I’m hoping that they are the correct decision.

The main cause of the controversy is down to a lack of communication and understanding between farmers and the ICBF and has created pure confusion.

Farmers should not be railroaded into something that they think is fundamentally wrong. A bit more discussion is needed, but I don’t know if a week’s extension will be enough.