Welsh Black calves are achieving daily liveweight gains comparable with Continental breeds.

A pioneering study involving bull calves selected for breed type, conformation and dam quality are being evaluated at the Institute of Biological and Environment Research testing station in Aberystwyth. As well as identifying the key traits of growth and muscularity, the bulls will also be fertility tested.

Nutrition specialist Chris Thorpe reports that the calves have achieved average daily liveweight gains of 2kg over the first four months of the trial.

Although Welsh Blacks have a reputation for being able to thrive under adverse conditions, Mr Thorpe says the project demonstrates the breed can compete with Continentals if they have an adequate plane of nutrition.

The project will create a breed sire reference benchmark, making it easier to select the most promising calves of the next generation. A second initiative to develop BodySUM assessments is underway to evaluate beef and milk-producing traits. Linear assessments are also being made of legs and feet and, in the females, udder conformation.

Dewi Hughes, project executive for Hybu Cig Cymru, says that as most Welsh Black bulls are reared on farms across Wales, meaningful comparisons between bulls reared under different environments have, until now, been difficult.

“The aim is to identify the best performing bull with good breed characteristics, that will ultimately produce a medium sized cow, easily managed and capable of giving birth to a live calf on a regular basis over a great number of years. The trials will help us identify the superior types and concentrate our efforts on breeding from these superior lines,” he says.