Due to the high cost of maintaining the suckler cow, it is essential to breed an efficient female, for cost-effective, sustainable, grass-based beef production systems, said advisers at last week’s suckler cow breeding conference in Tullamore, Co Offaly.
They said beef breeding in Ireland is at a new crossroads.
There is increasing concern about maternal traits in the suckler herd, and there is evidence that fertility of beef females is declining.
To date, there is no obvious breeding index for selecting maternal attributes in males or females.
To enable progress in beef cattle breeding, it is necessary to assign economic values to the breeding traits that affect profitability, so that breeding indices can accurately reflect economic gains made at farm level by improving these traits.
ICBF and beef industry representatives have recently reviewed existing beef breeding indices and revised the economic values of the breeding traits, using the Teagasc, Grange Beef Farm Systems Model.
Three new indices were developed, namely, "maternal", "terminal" and "dairy beef". These replace the previously used suckler beef values , which was too heavily weighted towards the terminal traits and the old sub indices have been replaced with "key profitable traits".
ICBF experts said the new beef indices will significantly improve the selection of the most appropriate type of sires for herds with different breeding aims and objectives.
On average, bulls that have a high value on the new terminal index should produce progeny with a high output with improved feed efficiency, that are not overly difficult to calve.
It is always advisable to monitor the calving difficulty trait along with whatever other key profit trait that is important for a particular herd to improve.
The new maternal index would allow farmers to easily identify sires that would be suitable to breed replacement heifers.
It is essential that the key profit traits relating to the beef and maternal traits are examined closely to see why individual bulls have a high maternal index value.
They said by pooling a team of five unrelated AI bulls whose individual maternal index reliabilities are 60% each, the reliability for the average team genetic merit is 92%.
The reliability percentage figures are a crucial measure of the accuracy of genetic evaluation; the higher the reliability the more confident one can be that a bull’s index will not change.
The new maternal index will also help suckler farmers to choose replacement heifers by examining their values.
One of the objectives in every suckler herd should be to increase its average maternal index value each year, as a new generation of higher maternal index replacement heifers are brought into the herd.
Increased weighing of weanlings in suckler herds will increase the reliabilities of the daughter milk key profit trait in bulls and replacement heifers.
Advances in sexed semen will allow even greater selection of bulls to produce replacement heifers.
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