15 August 1997

Moorepark elite herd to be culled

THE entire herd of 560 cattle at Moorepark, Irelands dairy research centre in Cork, is to be slaughtered after a four year-old homebred cow was confirmed to have BSE.

About 300 of the cows were three years in to a long-term study on high genetic merit animals, looking to see whether they could achieve their yield potential from grass.

The BSE case, confirmed on Aug 7, was the first at the centre. Under Irish government policy all cattle in the same herd as a confirmed BSE case have to be culled.

According to Sean ONeill, of the Irish Farmers Association, the policy has no scientific justification, but was introduced as the most prudent way for the country, which exports about 80% of its beef, to maintain consumer confidence.

He said the destruction of one of Irelands leading dairy herds, along with the loss of research work, was "disappointing, but just one of those things". The herd would be replaced and the research could begin again, he added.

Kevin OFarrell, head of dairying at Moorepark, said restocking would be allowed 30 days after all the cattle had been destroyed. But no decisions could be taken until the centre found out how much compensation, based on market value, it would receive.

Performance compared

Dr OFarrell said the research project involved comparing the performance of high genetic merit cows, imported from Holland, with Irish animals. "Many producers here are using high genetic merit sires and we were trying to find out if that really was the way our industry should be going."

Although the high merit cows were producing about 15% more milk from grass than the control group, the cows were only in to their third lactation, so it was impossible to draw any conclusions, he said.

"We were also looking at the tendency of higher genetic merit cows to have higher levels of reproductive disorders. That was certainly proving to be the case, with lower pregnancy rates and a higher culling rate for infertility," said Dr OFarrell.

Shelley Wright

Ultimately the researchers hoped to be able to produce an economic assessment of whether the increased milk yield from high genetic merit cows on grass-based systems outweighed the cost of reproductive disorders and the consequent higher culling rate.