Speakers at JSRs beef and
sheep improvement day last
week were convinced the
industry needs to take
radical steps to improve
stock efficiency and quality
through better breeding.
Marianne Curtis reports
A DESIRE to move away from the Holstein influence on suckler calves via their cross bred dams and a reduced supply of beef x dairy heifers replacements lies behind a new four-year project to develop effective suckler cow replacement strategies.
At a sheep and beef breed improvement open day at Givendale Farm, Pocklington, East Yorks, Geoff Simm, SAC head of genetics and reproduction, outlined the £0.75m project, funded by MLC, MAFF and the Scottish Office.
"Currently all Estimated Breeding Values and indexes are geared towards terminal sires. We have less information about how our breeds and crosses perform maternally.
"In the US, tens of thousands of animals have been recorded and breeds are ranked on all traits, including maternal traits. We have free access to this data.
"Using the US data together with data collected from cattle in UK herds, we will be able to develop software. This will allow the most suitable breeding strategy to be selected for a particular farm."
The ultimate objective of the project is to produce EBVs for maternal traits and a maternal selection index. To allow this, information on factors influencing suckler cow efficiency needs to be collected.
"Signet already collects data on calving ease, gestation length, weaning weights, growth and carcass traits for recorded herds.
"Additional information on cow mature size, condition score, longevity and fertility will be collected for 30 purebred and 30 crossbred herds.
"For the five most popular suckler cow breeds – Aberdeen Angus, Hereford, Limousin, Simmental and South Devon, we are hoping to obtain information from a larger number of animals."
Limousin Society chief executive Iain Kerr welcomes the project, believing that it will make breeding indexes more fully rounded. "It is a natural extension of BLUP, which is more of a terminal sire index at present."
Prof Simm anticipates that composite breeds will be one of the most useful options for suckler cow replacements. But he believes that if beef x dairy animals are available cheaply enough, they will continue to be used on some farms.
Purebred or crossbred suckler producers interested in taking part in the study should contact Signets Alison Nicol (0131-228 5544).
Looking across the Atlantic
FRANCHISE agreements are likely to be the way forward for getting US-developed composite maternal lines into the UK suckler cow population.
Unhappy with the effect of Holstein genetics on his suckler calves confirmation, Beef Improvement Group technical director Richard Fuller looked across the Atlantic for an alternative, more efficient suckler cow.
"The Beef Improvement Group was looking for a medium-sized, low-maintenance, high-output cow with good longevity and early puberty.
"Heifers should be two years old at calving; you cant afford to calve at two and a half to three years old anymore," he added.
Extensive work done at the US Meat Animal Research Centre, analysing data from 24 cattle breeds for maternal, carcass and growth traits led to the development of the Stabiliser composite by the Leachman Cattle Company, Nebraska.
"The Stabiliser is the result of a Red Angus x Hereford sire mated with a Gelbvieh x Simmental dam," explained Mr Fuller.
He believes composite breeding offers unrivalled opportunities for consistently improved confirmation, enhanced maternal ability and efficiency of suckler cows.
With the first Stabiliser calves born from imported embryos at Givendale, Pocklington, East Yorks, in March, the Beef Improvement Group will form franchise agreements with herds to multiply Stabiliser dam lines using further imported embryos.
Herds wishing to grade-up cows must register Stabiliser progeny with the Beef Improvement Group. The group will also ensure progeny are performance-recorded and monitor matings to avoid inbreeding, according to Mr Fuller.
High lamb prices will not return
ANYONE believing that current low lamb prices are a temporary blip is living in a fools paradise and there is no way back to the high prices producers enjoyed a few years ago.
That was the view of Henry Fell, originator of the Meatlinc sheep breed. "It is essential we look at radical breeding solutions. There is too much poor-quality lamb coming on to the market, especially in autumn and winter.
"The halfbred wether downgrades the market and the perception of lamb quality. With less than half of slaughter lambs falling into the target grades of 2 and 3L at E, U or R, the industry urgently needs to address the halfbred problem."
Using performance recorded, superior terminal sires is important to impose meat quality on a mother with poor confirmation, according to Mr Fell. "There are still far too many producers who think that they have a real bargain when they buy a ram for less than £150.
"Also, too many still buy on looks alone with no information on performance or breeding values. But as the younger, technically educated generation come forward that is changing," Mr Fell added.
Inconsistency in heifer beef puzzler
INCONSISTENCY is the reason why Marks and Spencer shuns heifer beef. But the reasons why it is less consistent than steer beef have yet to be established.
Producers questioned Marks and Spencer technical manager Chris Gilbert-Wood on the reason for his companys negative attitude towards heifer beef at the JSR sheep and beef breed improvement open day.
"Ive eaten thousands of steaks, and there are bad steaks from both heifers and steers. However, heifer beef quality is definitely more variable. But we havent given up on heifers and are giving the problem some thought," he added.
He said that among other factors, time of slaughter in relation to the oestrus cycle might have an effect. "Im sure the answer is in there somewhere." *