IMPROVED COW replacement strategies using the latest information to emerge from a ground-breaking industry project could more than double the profitability of English suckler herds, according to the English Beef and Lamb Executive.

Undertaken by the Meat and Livestock Commission, SAC, Signet, ADAS and other commercial partners as part of DEFRA‘s LINK Sustainable Livestock Production Programme with SEERAD, the four-year project has just been completed.

It combines 30 years of comparative cross-bred beef information from around the world with detailed performance records from commercial herds representing the vast majority of breeds used in British suckled calf production.

This has enabled a database of breed differences in important performance traits to be established as the basis for a special computer program to help beef producers select the most profitable breeds and heifer replacement strategies for their own specific circumstances.

Known as the BREEDS (Beef Replacement Enterprise Evaluation Decisions Support) software, this program simulates all aspects of beef production.

It allows the merits of specific breeds to be explored for herd replacements and as terminal sires, and can compare the value of a variety of suckler cow replacement systems and options.

Currently available to consultants and educators linked to a short training course, the program and further information can be accessed through SAC at www.sac.ac.uk/beef_BREEDS.

Once the most appropriate breeding and replacement strategy has been identified, a range of new Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for maternal traits derived from the project can be used to fine-tune individual sire selection.

These have been combined into three new economic selection indexes, allowing producers to assess the overall replacement breeding value of specific bulls.

The Maternal Ability Index combines information on reproduction, longevity, age at puberty, maternal weaning weight and maternal calving difficulty.

The Cow Feed Cost Index puts a cost on the maintenance feeding of the cows as a result of their size differences. And the Maternal Production Index combines the two initial indexes with the existing Beef Value and Calving Value indexes to assess the total value of a replacement cow.

These indexes are planned to be integrated into the existing MLC BeefBreeder software to make them widely available to English producers.

EBLEX calculations using both the BREEDS software and the new selection indexes, for example, show that switching to Simmental x Limousin cows and breeding replacements rather than buying-in could increase the gross margin of an average-performing 100 cow Limousin x Friesian herd crossing to Charolais from £7000 to more than £14000.