The use of beef straws on the dairy herd is up by a quarter this year as more dairy farmers are looking to sexed semen for replacement heifers and seeking to improve quality of the remaining calves they breed, according to the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF).

This trend towards using more beef bulls on the dairy herd saw an extra 100,000 beef sire inseminations being carried out to-date in 2022, ICBF technical director Andrew Cromie told farmers at the Irish Farmers Journal Thrive demonstration farm open day on Tuesday.

He said the declining terminal performance recorded from beef stock sourced from the dairy herd has “been arrested”. He urged dairy farmers not to look at improving calf quality solely through the lens of profitability, but also to consider the benefits of improved calf demand in spring when selecting sires.

“If we look at the latest, very latest insemination statistics there for this year, beef on dairy AI went up by about 25% - 100,000 inseminations,” Cromie said.

“And they replace dairy inseminations. A lot of dairy farmers are starting to use sexed semen. About a quarter of dairy farmers used sexed semen last spring and that has been doubling year on year. We look on that as a big positive.”

Carcase trends

Cromie went on to comment that the continuing drop in dairy-beef slaughter performance seen over the past decade has stalled.

This stabilisation of carcase performance could be partly attributed to AI stations having “largely cleared pots out” of short-gestation, easy-calving bulls with poorer slaughter traits, he said.

“The other positive is the trend that we have been seeing in terms of carcase weight and conformation and fat score, which had been declining in terms of beef on dairy, have largely been arrested,” he said.

Beef farmer ‘frustration’

Cromie also recognised that the dairy sector’s reluctance to use higher genetic merit beef bulls had caused calf-beef farmers a “fair bit of frustration maybe in the past”.

The “mindset change” needed to get dairy farmer buy-in with moves towards improving beef from dairy had not been fully achieved, however.

“I suppose the challenge we have seen over the last couple of years - the dairy beef index is now in place since 2019 - is that we haven’t been really able to get dairy farmers to use a better beef bull each year.

“They are still, in the back of their minds, they are thinking about easy calving and short gestation so our ability to really engage with the dairy farmer so he sees the value to him of making sure there is a better beef calf coming from the dairy herd each year, that’s where the particular challenge is now,” he said.