Teagasc advice: How to win in BDGP numbers game

There are about 26,500 suckler farmers signed up to the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP).

They received a BDGP report in the autumn, and if they go into ICBF’s online HerdPlus system, they can get an updated report on their herd.

Your Teagasc advisor can help you with this report.

Understanding what is in this report is important for several reasons, said Aidan Murray of the Teagasc Animal and Grassland Research & Innovation Programme in his recent report in the Teagasc/Agricultural Trust Todays Farm magazine.

The report will tell you the current Eurostar replacement values of the females in your herd (cows and heifers) and how many of the herd are rated four-star and five-star.

The report will indicate how many four-star and five-star females you need in your herd in 2018 and 2020.

The report will also show stockbull(s) terminal and replacement values.

It is important that you make yourself aware of this because there is a requirement in the programme to reach a minimum number of four-star and five-star females, and of suitable sires (AI or stock bulls) in the herd.

Make sure you understand what is in your BDGP report. See which category best describes your herd. Identify the breeding changes you might have to make to comply with the programme.

Where your report is telling you that you will be short of females, and you want to breed your own, you need to start making breeding decisions, if the heifers are going to be on the ground and eligible for October 2018.

Be aware that the Eurostar index of your herd will continually change as more and more animals are genotyped, and as you cull animals.

The index is only a tool to help you make better breeding decisions. Use it in conjunction with visual assessment and pedigree information on the animals in your herd.

Everyone participating in the BDGP will have to complete a four-hour Training Course in 2016. You will be contacted directly when courses are coming up in their area. These courses will further explain your reports and how the indices work.

Female requirements

On October 31, 2018, you must have at least 20% of your reference number of females in the herd four-star or five-star for replacement index (across or within breed).

On October 31, 2020, you must have at least 50% four-star or five-star females.

Heifer requirements

Homebred heifers must be four-star or five-star at the time of genotyping.

Purchased heifers must be genotyped at the time of purchase.Heifers that are purchased and not genotyped must be genotyped, before they are eligible.

Heifers must be at least 16 months old on October 31, 2018 or October 31, 2020 to be eligible. They do not have to be in calf on these dates.

Sire requirements

Stock bull:

at least one stock bull on June 30, 2019, should be four or five-star genotyped for terminal or replacement index (across or within breed) at purchase. Where this bull is replaced after June 30, 2019, by June 30, 2020, at least one four or five-star stock bull is needed.

Using AI bulls:

from June, 2016, at least 80% of AI used must be four-star or five-star genotyped for terminal or replacement index (across or within breed).

Herd category

We are broadly seeing herds falling into three categories.

High numbers of four-star and five-star animals:

these herds also have high numbers of young heifers coming through as potential replacements.

These herdowners have focused on breeding maternal traits over the years, and if they maintain a similar strategy, they will more than meet the BDGP requirements.

Some of them will find a demand for their surplus high-replacement index heifers, from other farmers moving to upgrade their herds.

Average numbers of four-star and five-star animals:

probably more than a quarter of the cows in these herds are coming through as four-star or five-star for replacement index, but less than one third of their young heifers will be four-star or five-star.

So they will be alright in 2018, but may fall short of the 2020 requirement unless they take corrective action.

In their favour, they have a base of good cows. With targeted AI (sires with high replacement values) on their high index cows, they can breed suitable replacements.

Or they can buy in a genotyped stock bull with a high replacement value.

Low numbers of four-star and five-star animals:

these herds have less than 25% of current cows with four or five stars, and there may be little if any suitable heifers coming through. 

The herdowners’ focus had been mainly terminal, because they had been finishing their own stock, or targeting high value weanlings or stores.

Often, they had been buying in replacement cows and focused on using terminal sires. These herdowners probably have more immediate decisions to make.

If they continue using terminal sires, they will have to source suitable (four-star and five-star) replacements from other suckler herds, or even some dairy crosses.

For this option, they should buy a few suitable replacements each year, rather than wait until nearer the deadline.

There is an argument that smaller herds that have been breeding mainly for terminal traits, and have a good terminal sire, would leave themselves with a less complicated system if they could source high health status heifers from outside. But that is up to each individual herdowner.

Larger herds with more than one stock bull might decide to introduce a stock bull with high replacement values, if they want to breed sufficient replacements. Or if AI is an option, they may target the higher index cows with high replacement index sires.


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