Five-star cattle prove their clear superiority

Pat Hally, Rathdowney, judging cattle at the Christmas fatstock show and sale in Cork Marts, Skibbereen. For many farmers, producing the top cattle starts with checking their Euro-Star ratings.

Q&A: Christy Watson, ICBF
The beef Euro-Star system got under way in 2007 with the suckler welfare scheme, in which participants recorded sires.

Seven years later, analysis on beef finisher farms shows the clear superiority of these five-star animals.

Teagasc drystock adviser Christy Watson recently analysed beef finishing on the farms of two of his clients who are signed up for ICBF’s HerdPlus system. They get HerdPlus slaughter reports which include Euro-Star ratings for their animals.

According to Christy Watson, the reports on one farm showed five-star cattle are fit for slaughter four months earlier than one-star animals; and carcases are 50kg heavier. They sold for €237 more on average.

On the second farm, five-star cattle finished two months earlier, and carcases are 87kg heavier. They sold for €237 more on average.

Unfor tunately, far mers buying cattle for finishing do not yet have ready access to the star ratings, said Mr Watson, in his report in Teagasc’s Today’s Farm magazine — unless sellers have the Euro-Star information and make it available.

¦ Where can I find the Euro-Star ratings of an AI bull or a stock bull?

>> On the online bull search which is available at www.icbf.com. Euro-Stars are updated three times per year, in April, August and December.

¦ What do the stars mean?

>> The stars on the index are used to rank bulls. The stars range from a ½ star (bottom 10%) to 5 stars (top 10%). There are within breed stars on the left hand side of the index which ranks a bull within his own breed and across breed stars on the right hand side which rank a bull against all breeds. It is important to remember that a bull’s within breed star ratings can be very different to his across breed star ratings.

¦ Should I use the within breed stars or the across breed stars?

>> If you are a pedigree breeder or a commercial farmer that always uses the same breed of bull, then you should focus on the within breed stars. If, on the other hand, you are open to using a number of breeds, you should focus on the across breed stars and look for a high star rating on the traits that are important to you. If the reliabilities on an index or trait are low, then the bull is not proven on that index or trait.

¦ On the old Euro-Star index, I found the weanling export trait very useful as I sell all of my calves as weanlings. How can I now judge from a bull’s index whether he breeds good weanlings or not?

>> The new Euro-Star index does not have a trait for weanling quality. However, you can get around this by using some of the other traits. The two main things that buyers look for at wean-ling sales are weight for age and shape. The overall terminal index, carcass weight and particularly carcass conformation traits are good indicators as to how suitable a bull should be to breed good quality weanlings. Some AI companies have added a weaning weight trait to the indexes in their catalogues which can also be used. A close eye should always be kept on the reliability % figures as well as on the calving difficulty % figure as difficult calvings are highly undesirable and lead to increased losses, labour and costs.

¦ Why does the best cow in my herd have a poor index?

>> This is a very common question among beef farmers and an understandable one. A high performing cow can have a poor index for a number of reasons: ¦ If the cow is from poor back breeding, if the animals in her back pedigree bred poor progeny, this will be reflected in the cow’s index. Her own performance on the ground will boost her index, but to a limited degree. This is because a cow can only ever have a relatively small number of progeny (10 calves would be a huge return), therefore she will not have enough progeny records to significantly improve her own index. ¦ If the cow is from an out-cross pedigree and ICBF has very few, if any, data records on these animals, the index of your cow may look very poor, but the reliability figures will also be very low.

¦ Why do some of my cows not have any index?

>> This is usually because these cows do not have a sire recorded. If the sire is un-known, a genetic index cannot be created. If you know the sires of these cows, you can record them through your HerdPlus login by going to the “Record Missing Sires” screen.

¦ In the Euro-Star index there is a trait for daughter milk. How does ICBF measure the milking ability of suckler cows?

>> The milking ability of suckler cows is gauged by the performance of their calves. Calves with the highest average daily gains in a herd are almost always from the milkiest cows in that herd. In order for this performance to be reflected in genetic indexes, it must be measured and this is done by weighing suckler calves between 150-250 days of age (approx. 5-8 ½ months). A weight on a calf at this age is more commonly known as a “milk weight” and gives a good indication as to the milking ability of the cow that the calf is suckling.

On-farm weighing is good practice as it gives farmers a detailed insight into the performance of their animals and allows ICBF to reflect the milking performance of suck-ler cows in genetic evaluations. It is vital that farmers not only weigh their animals but also supply these weights to ICBF. Weights can be recorded through the ICBF website (HerdPlus®) or through a farm software package. If a farmer avails of the ICBF weighing service, weights are automatically uploaded to the ICBF database.

¦ Full information on the beef euro-star system is available from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (see www.icbf.com website)


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