Sustainable Breeding Summit: Improving the efficiency of suckler cows

The breeding policy for suckler farms to meet climate obligations was debated yesterday evening (Thursday 7 April) at the Sustainable Livestock Summit.

In most suckler farms, breeding has for several years focused on increasing profitability, but as we are now in an era of climate obligations, the focus must change again.

Increasing the efficiency of suckler herds is the best way to achieve the climate goals set for the sector, with breeding and sire selection playing a key role in how suckler herds become more efficient.

Sustainable Livestock Summit

During the third episode of the Sustainable Breeding Summit, John Heslin asked Rose Goulding of the National Cattle Breeding Center (NCBC) what can be done from a breeding and management perspective to meet these obligations. climatic.

“The first thing is that we all eat and we all love to eat, so food production is important,” Rose said.

“I think Ireland is one of the best countries in the world where we can produce food in a sustainable way.

“From a beef perspective, we’re really, really lucky because anything we do from a livestock perspective to improve sustainability will also improve profitability.

“We’re very lucky that we’re not doing anything that’s going to cost us more money,” she said.

Rose gold foil

All about efficiency

Continuing, Rose said, “Thinking about it from a genetic point of view, what can we do from a genetic point of view to improve the sustainability and therefore the profitability of suckler farms?

“It’s all about efficiency; make that animal work every day he is there.

When it comes to fertility, some desirable aspects, according to Rose, are:

“Calving at 24 months is important, calving every 365 days, ensuring that the cow can calve alone, feed her calf and stay on the farm as long as possible.

“All these things around fertility make it an efficient animal, therefore a durable animal – therefore more profitable.

“If we look at the terminal side, we need animals that can grow very quickly and really use the grass.

“Again in Ireland, we are really lucky with our climate and type of terrain, where we are one of the best counties in the world to grow grass.

“The big thing for sustainability is to reduce the age of slaughter. So there are a lot of things that we can do from a genetic point of view to improve those things.

Feed efficiency

Commenting on some of the research conducted by NCBC, Rose said: “The other thing we look at is feed efficiency, which unfortunately cannot be measured on the farm.

“We have a facility in Tully, to measure the feed efficiency of AI offspring [artificial insemination] bulls.

“So if we have data on AI bulls, they produce the most offspring and they are also the sire, so the stock bulls sold by pedigree breeders.

“So even though we don’t get a lot of data on feed efficacy, we do get it on the animals that are important, to feed us all the way through the food chain.

“Feed efficiency is important because we need animals that can gain as much weight as possible with as little feed as possible and we have seen great variation in different bloodlines.

“We also look at how much methane an animal produces. We are starting to see variations in different genetics.

“Two animals have the same weight and have the same feed efficiency, but one produces much more methane than the other.”