Holstein out – quality in
Reducing the Holstein
influence by improving the
breeding of suckler
replacements coupled with
using estimated breeding
values (EBVs) in sire
selection is rewarding one
Yorks beef producer with a
consistent improvement in
Simon Wragg reports
USING performance recorded bulls is helping one Yorks producers improve the quality of suckler calves, but breeding better suckler replacements should also pay dividends.
At Robert Rooks 526ha (1300-acre) Weighton Wold Farm, Beverley, Charolais bulls are selected using EBVs to improve the beef characteristics of suckler calves and counteract the unwanted Holstein effect on the traditional Aberdeen Angus X Friesian suckler cow.
Since the introduction of best linear unbiased profile (BLUP) assessment the guesswork has been taken out of bull selection, says Mr Rook. It is allowing buyers to select bulls with high EBVs to improve carcass quality: "Using muscling score and beef value the improvement is more scientific, it is more reliable."
Selective breeding has increased carcass quality for Mr Rook, who farms in partnership with brother, John. Instead of R and occasional O+ grade carcasses, 59 out of 68 animals put through St Merryn Meats Lincoln abattoir this spring graded U, the rest being Es.
All bulls are fed a barley-based ration and finished to 600-680kg liveweight. Daily lw gains average 1.7kg a day from weaning to finishing, although a 40-day trial showed gains of up to 1.81kg a day, claims Mr Rook. Before the introduction of sires with EBVs beef cattle achieved daily lw gains of 1.4kg a day.
Killing-out % has also improved. "Typically, we achieved 54-55%, now it is up to 57-59% for this years finished bulls," says Mr Rook.
Attention will now focus on improving the breeding of suckler replacements. Mr Rook believes the Holstein influence that has crept into todays suckler replacement has served to increase maintenance costs and cut longevity. Both these factors reduce suckler efficiency, while undermining the quality of their beef progeny, he says.
"When selecting replacement heifers from traditional breeds it didnt matter if the animal was too big or too small, but the Holsteins influence increases that variation – it must be cut out."
To change the breeding of suckler replacements, Mr Rook – along with other producers who form the Beef Improvement Group, which looks at improving the returns from beef through better breeding – is adopting a four-breed composite replacement technique pioneered in the US at the Clay Meat and Animal Research Centre, Nebraska.
Composite breeding will produce a medium sized, low maintenance, high output type of cow which retains a high proportion of hybrid vigour, says Mr Rook. Longevity and hardiness are also taken into account.
"The composite route will standardise, or rather enable a consistent quality replacement heifer to be bred. That is important as we cannot continue to have the variation in carcass quality of their progeny that we have today – much of which has been caused by dairy producers putting cows to the bull of the day," he adds.
"The Clay Institute has bred a suckler cow to withstand harsh conditions and be outside all year round. In the comparative luxury of the UK it should perform well." *
Use of EBVs in selecting herd sires takes the chance out of breed improvement, says Robert Rook.
Carcass grades are up from Rs to Us overall with improved breeding at Weighton Wold Farm.
Getting rid of the Holstein influence is a priority for Yorks producer Robert Rook.
Effect of two sires on Angus X Friesian cows and progeny at Weighton Wold Farm
Sire Sire 1 Sire 2
Birth weight (kg) 3.7 2.6
200-day weight (kg) 35.7 21.1
400-day growth (kg) 66.0 32.1
Fat depth (mm) -0.10 -0.04
Muscling score 1.55 1.01
Beef Value CH40 CH25
Birth weight (kg) 49.2 47.8
220-day weight (kg) 348 331
400-day weight (kg) 572 540
LW gain (kg/day) 1.43 1.35
Carcass weight 377 347
Carcass vale (£) 692 659
Days to slaughter 414 410