21 January 2000

Beef industry slow to take up EBVs

By Emma Penny

DESPITE widespread promotion, the beef industry has still to fully use Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs), and more must be done to encourage their use.

Speaking at the British Cattle Breeders Conference, south-west England-based Signet consultant Rob Shields said there were commercial benefits from breeding better stock using EBVs.

"EBV figures are now available for 32 beef breeds in the UK, and this allows dairy producers to select for commercially important traits associated with calving or carcass merit. But despite promotion at shows, sales, farm events and in AI catalogues, the UK beef industry has been slow to grasp the benefits."

Mr Shields believes there are six possible reasons for slow uptake of EBV technology. "The first is that there is a problem understanding EBVs and their accuracy figures. We need to spend more time explaining the system to commercial producers."

He added that pedigree breeders, too, could be sceptical about EBVs, and did not always see them as a useful sales tool. "Again, we will have to spend more time educating producers about their benefits."

Current low accuracy figures attached to some traits also retards uptake and use of EBV figures. "There are problems with low accuracy figures, particularly those associated with reproduction. We need more herds to record information and provide more data for all traits to improve accuracy."

Despite some concern over low accuracy figures, commercial producers could also benefit from better planning before they buy a bull, he suggested. Most dairy and suckler producers purchase a new bull ready to work, which can often be too late to buy the best genetics available.

Another concern is that it isnt always easy to perceive the advantages of high EBV stock on commercial farms. "If you buy a bull with good EBVs you expect to see better calves, but this isnt always easy to see in a bulls progeny."

This is compounded by deadweight selling and four different dressing specifications, which can make comparisons between bulls progeny difficult, he said. "The National Beef Association is trying to have one UK-wide dressing specification adopted, which would allow country-wide assessment of high EBV stock."

Mr Shields added that better identification of calves sired by high EBV bulls would also help ensure the technologys wider acceptance. "We need a system where high genetic merit cattle can be identified. In Northern Ireland, commercial cattle of high genetic merit are identified and included as part of a gold star scheme."

EBVFIGURES

&#8226 Industry still sceptical.

&#8226 Need better accuracy.

&#8226 Use as sales tool.