Balanced approach need for dairy-beef calves

The increased use of sexed semen within dairy herds means that more dairy-beef calves will be born on Irish dairy farms.

This means dairy farmers needs to pay more attention to beef sire selection.

Tools such as the Dairy Beef Index (DBI) have been developed to help dairy farms select bulls to use on their cows.

But a major drawback is the weighting placed on calving – this is a positive for the dairy farmer, but often results in a poorer quality calf being sold into the beef herd.

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Dairy beef calves

Dovea Genetics and Lely Center Mullingar held a breeding-focussed farm walk on the farm of the Callan family just outside Philipstown, Co. Louth this week (Thursday, August 31).

Speaking at the event, John Lynch from Dovea said: “It is all about a balanced approach, to match the needs of the dairy and beef farmer.

“There is a lot of talk within the industry around higher carcass values. We do need that – but we need more balanced bulls firstly.”

When selecting bulls using the DBI, a bit like selecting bulls using the economic breeding index (EBI), you need to examine the traits that make up the sub-indexes.

A bull can have a high-DBI value, but most of this value can be coming from the bull being extremely easy calving.

John Lynch from Dovea

Lynch said that when dairy farmers are picking bulls there are a number of areas that need to be considered.

This includes cow parity – is it a heifer, third calver or fifth calver i and cow type.

Farmers should be using different breeds and calving difficultly depending on the age of animal they will be used on.

For example, the bull used for heifers should not be the same bull used on fifth calvers.

Gestation length is also something that should be considered. Early in the season the gestation length isn’t that important – but later in the season it is.

Key points

Dairy farmers need to start looking more closely at the beef sires they are using on their cows to ensure that high-quality calves are coming from the national dairy herd.

When selecting bulls dairy farmers need to look at the sub-indexes within the DBI and look at other breeds rather than just Angus.

A bit like matching the right cow to the right dairy sire, the same process should be used when selecting beef sires.

Different sires should be used based on the age and conformation of the cows or heifers.

Angus will have a place on dairy farms, but alternative beef breed sires such as Belgian Blue or Limousin also have a place in dairy farm breeding plans.


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