There is some concern in pedigree breeding circles that the maternal testing programme for selecting proven maternal bulls in the Irish system isn’t working.
The Gene Ireland programme was developed over 10 years ago.
The thinking was that ICBF would facilitate the purchase of young bulls selected by a panel of members from each breed.
This panel consisted of commercial farmers, pedigree breeders, ICBF personnel and representatives from NCBC and Dovea Genetics.
Successfully graduated bulls would enter AI after being used in commercial Gene Ireland progeny testing herds
A number of years went by and there have been some very successful purchases as part of this process – Castleview Gazelle being one of the most noted. Bulls were purchased from pedigree breeders for between €4,000 and €5,000/head.
Herds participating in the whole herd performance recording programme would be targeted for bull purchases. Successfully graduated bulls would enter AI after being used in commercial Gene Ireland progeny testing herds.
Commercial farmers get access to these bulls for €5/straw and, in return, ICBF purchases some of the progeny back for performance testing in Tully.
On paper, it looks like a simple system. However, in practice, it hasn’t been as easy
Information on the females is recorded in the ICBF database and this filters through to the bull’s replacement index figures.
The thinking behind the system is that new Irish-bred bulls would be tested every year which are better than the previous generation of bulls.
On paper, it looks like a simple system. However, in practice, it hasn’t been as easy. In recent years, pedigree breed societies have become disengaged with the process and many Gene Ireland committees are not currently meeting to choose bulls.
Dovea Genetics has also pulled out of the programme saying that it was not working for it. Both the Charolais and Simmental committees haven’t met for three years.
Some societies are now just going to France and taking a chance on a bull with maternal bloodlines to breed the cows of the future in that pedigree breed.
Back home for the last couple of intakes, the majority of the bulls being put forward for testing have been French bulls selected by the National Cattle Breeding Centre.
ICBF initiated a review of the programme about 18 months ago.
One of the outcomes of which was that ICBF felt it had taken the programmes as far as they could go from a bull-purchasing perspective.
It felt the onus was now on the AI companies and bull breeders to work together to deliver the programme, with ICBF operating in the background and providing material for bull selection, etc. This is now happening.
The current system isn’t functioning properly and changes will need to be made
However, there aren’t enough bulls being purchased, which is partly the reason why some of these foreign bulls are coming in. ICBF says that these bulls are often outliers within their own country and are needed to help introduce new bloodlines, etc.
The current system isn’t functioning properly and changes will need to be made to get more breed society and farmer buy-in. Breed societies also need to sit back and take the longer-term view.
We know that due to the low level of AI usage in the suckler herd, genetic progress will be driven by stock bull usage. This means that pedigree breeders are in the driving seat on choosing the direction that the commercial herd goes in.
Without breed societies having a clear plan as to where the next generation of cows come from, there is a risk that we will lose maternal attributes in a breed.
For the last 40 years, CREALIM has been testing maternal AI bulls for the French Limousin Society. Controlled by the French Breeding Institute, the process lasts six years between the birth of the bull and the last results of his daughters in the Moussours test station.
Each year, 36 nine-month-old bulls are selected from the top 5% of the breed to enter the individual control station.
A combination of genetic data, farm performance and visual appearance is used to select the bulls. Around 35% of these bulls are from mating contracts where pedigree farmers were asked to use certain bulls on their cows.
The bulls are also weighed and scanned for muscle and fat every four weeks
The bulls then enter a five-month controlled diet period where they are fed via an automatic feeder with feed intakes being recorded.
They are also evaluated on growth potential , docility, feet and legs, feeding efficiency, pelvic measurements and linear scoring.
The bulls are also weighed and scanned for muscle and fat every four weeks.
After this process, the original 36 bulls will be refined to 10 bulls for further testing.
Of the remaining bulls, 10 to 12 are sold during an open-day auction in March each year and all the others are slaughtered.
The goal is to inseminate 120 to 130 cows with each of these 10 bulls all over France in all sorts of cows and environments. This is to try to get the best knowledge of the bull effect.
When these progeny reach eight to nine months old, 350 bull calves are purchased and sent to two feedlots to be fattened and slaughtered at 16 months of age to get data and figures on growth, carcase yield and conformation and profit margins.
Three hundred and fifty eight- to nine-month-old heifers are also purchased to go to the Moussours station.
These heifers are scored and weighed at entry and also undergo a docility test.
At 17 to 18 months, heifers are scanned and with this information a further two bulls are eliminated
At this stage, with the weaning results and docility test, two bulls and their progeny are eliminated from the process.
At 15 months of age, heifers are artificially inseminated on natural heats for a period of 10 weeks. At 17 to 18 months, heifers are scanned and with this information a further two bulls are eliminated.
More data is captured as the heifers calve down on calf size, calf vigour, calving ease, etc.
Calves are separated from the cows at 60 days and 120 days and weighed before and after sucking at both morning and evening. Calves are weighed at four-week intervals from birth to seven months.
At the end of each year, three or four bulls obtain a maternal certification.