29,000 apply in BDGP but final tally not clear yet

It will not be known until much later this year how many farmers will take part in the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP).
29,000 apply in BDGP but final tally not clear yet

It closed for applications on Friday, June 5 — but the 29,000 or so farmers who applied can pull out of the scheme at any time before payment is issued at the end of the year, or before they get notification of a scheme inspection.

Meanwhile, the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) has compiled the following answers to the most frequently asked BDGP questions.

There will not be enough pedigree bulls with the required indexes to make the scheme work?

This is incorrect. Analysis undertaken by ICBF has clearly highlighted that of the 14,000 pedigree bulls born each year, about 10,000 will be eligible (that is, they are in the top 40% for either replacement index or terminal index, on a within or across breed basis).

Furthermore, analysis from the 2014 programme has indicated that the number of new breeding bulls required in scheme herds is some 7,000/year (the average length of productive life of a pedigree bull is 3.5 breeding seasons).

Therefore, there will be more than enough pedigree bulls to cater for the requirements of the programme. Bull breeders or commercial farmers do not need to be afraid that there will be a shortage of bulls for the scheme.

There are not enough suitable four and five-star bulls for pedigree use, to breed the required stock bulls for the industry?

This is incorrect. There is a very wide range of AI bulls available for pedigree beef breeding that are four and five-stars on either the replacement or terminal index. For example, ICBF recently completed its listing of recommended sires for bull breeders involved in the Gene Ireland maternal beef breeding programme.

In total, there are some 164 bulls in that catalogue (http://www.icbf.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Gene-Ireland-Recommended-Sire-List-2015.pdf) of which 151 (92%) are four and five-stars on either the replacement or terminal index (within or across breeds).

Of the main breeds, there are 39 Charolais bulls (all eligible), 25 Limousin bulls (all eligible), 19 Angus bulls (84% eligible), 16 Simmental bulls (all eligible) and 15 Hereford bulls (80% eligible).

This simply serves to highlight that the challenge is not necessarily sufficient bulls, but rather establishing a mind-set change regarding the type of bull that will be required to breed the next generation of stock bulls.

Traits such as cost of calving, cost of maternal efficiency, and cost of feed/maintenance, will become increasingly important, as our suckler herd competes with other sectors for resources (land, labour and capital).

The scheme will restrict the use of “outcross” sires by pedigree breeders?

Again, this is incorrect. The scheme caters for use of outcross sires, as the 80% compliance requirement on AI gives more than enough scope for pedigree breeders that wish to use some outcross sires.

Indeed, recent analysis undertaken by ICBF has indicated that the problem is not as large as some people might consider. For example, there were 166 new beef AI sires coded last year (both Irish bred and foreign) and of these , 69% are already compliant with the scheme.

ICBF fully expects that a positive aspect of the scheme will be that AI companies and breeders will be much more vigilant regarding the type of “outcross” bulls they purchase/import, and that this figure (69%) will increase significantly in the next one or two years. This would be a positive outcome for the Irish beef industry.

The Euro-Star index figures are often meaningless, due to the low levels of data reliability associated with them. What is the trade-off between data reliability and stars?

Attached to every Euro-Star index is a data reliability figure.

Taking an example from the table, above, if a farmer was to buy a stock bull with a Euro-Star index of 140 on replacement index (that is, five stars on the replacement index), then, at the extremes, his index could increase (or decrease) by some 100. For an AI sire (which has 90% data reliability) the figure reduces to 38 — which highlights the benefits of using AI when breeding female replacements.

As indicated earlier, a key objective of the scheme is ensuring that all breeding animals will be genotyped. Based on experience from dairy, we expect this to increase the average reliability for replacement index for animals in the programme from the current 30% (for replacement index) to 50% during the course of the scheme, which will result in a reduction in the potential change in a single animal’s proof from the current 100 (one animal at 30% data reliability) to 85 (one animal at 50% data reliability), through the use of additional DNA data.

Of course, another way for farmers to reduce the risk associated with data reliability is through using teams of AI bulls when breeding female replacements, which is exactly the approach taken by farmers participating in the Gene Ireland beef breeding programme, operated by ICBF on behalf of the beef breeding industry.

In that programme, beef farmers generally use a team of four young beef bulls, which reduces the average change in bulls’ proofs (for the team) from 100 down to 50. Using a team of four genomically selected young bulls at 50% reliability would reduce the range to 42.

Of course, the exact same exercise undertaken above for bulls, is equally (and arguably even more) relevant in the context of breeding females. In this circumstance, farmers participating in the scheme, will, on average, be bringing in at least 10 replacement females over the course of the scheme (for example, in a 20-cow herd, bringing in two new replacement females/year).

Again, all of these animals will be genotyped, with a genomic reliability of 50%. As a result, the expected change in proofs for these animals (across all 10 female replacements) is expected to be only 27, which serves to highlight why the scheme is so focused on using new technology (such as EurosStars, genomics, and teams of animals) to support breeding strategy on participating farms.

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