9 January 1998

Maternal traits lose out in drive for production

GENETIC evaluations for the UK beef industry must include a maternal index to identify animals best suited to breeding suckler cows.

This is especially important now that more suckler producers are breeding their own herd replacements, according to Yorks producer Richard Fuller, manager at JSR Farms, Pocklington.

"Were seriously missing the point here – the beef production value is an excellent tool for identifying top terminal sires but is driving meat production forward at the expense of maternal traits. Estimated breeding values for 200-day milk are showing a downward trend."

Mr Fuller believes the drive for extra leanness and muscling ability will add to maintenance costs, and is compromising maternal traits – such as milkiness, and fertility. Eating quality is also being compromised by downward pressure on fat, particularly intra-muscular fat – marbling – which improves meat flavour and succulence.

"If we keep selecting breeding stock on the current production value, we will continue to lose milk production – and we cant afford to do that," he says.

Native breeds such as the Lincoln Red and South Devon are under the same pressure as the Continental breeds through selection on muscle and leanness. This is driving down their inherent maternal traits such as milking ability, explains Mr Fuller.

BLUP evaluation is also driving fat out of breeds, and this is increasing maintenance requirements, he adds. "We need a reasonable amount of fat on cows to keep maintenance costs under control."

He believes that the industry needs a maternal index suited to the native breeds – and perhaps the Simmental, which has a reasonable meat yield and good growth and milking ability – which are best suited for breeding suckler cow replacements.

These UK breeds which confer desirable maternal and eating quality traits, such as the South Devon, Angus, and Lincoln Red, and possibly the Simmental, could then be used either in rotational cross-breeding or to create a composite breed of cow (see p40).

"Composite breeding – which is proving successful in the US – is based on selecting pure breeds strong in each desired trait, and crossing them together to form a new dam line which will breed true to type and retain most of its hybrid vigour," explains Mr Fuller.

Composite cows should then be mated to well muscled, leaner Continental breeds such as the Charolais, Limousin, and Belgian Blue which have been selected as terminal crossing sires.n

The current drive for extra leanness and muscling ability is compromising important maternal traits, believes Yorks beef producer Richard Fuller.

MATERNAL INDEX NEED

&#8226 Identify animals for breeding herd replacements.

&#8226 Must be suited to native breeds.

&#8226 Milkiness and fertility currently compromised.