12 November 1999

Use beef value index to gain extra premium

Improving beef bull selection

could boost returns on

calves and finished cattle,

assisting beleaguered

dairy businesses.

Marianne Curtis reports

CALVING ease is an important consideration when selecting beef sires for dairy herds, but it should not be the only one. Choosing bulls with higher beef values may add an extra £100 a head profit to finished cattle or £10-£15 a head to calves, says MLC beef scientist Duncan Pullar.

"Using beef value index to select beef sires is based on the same principles as using PIN or PLI to select dairy sires." Beef value measures an animals ability to produce high yields of saleable meat.

For dairy herd manager Ivan Turner, of Easthall Farm, St Pauls Walden, Herts, calving ease and producing quality beef cross calves or finished cattle are his main objectives. "It is important that heifers calve easily; heifers with a difficult calving dont milk well."

The units 200 cows are calved in a tight pattern between August and December. About 80 cows and 20 heifers are bred to beef sires each year, through natural service and AI. All beef heifers and some bulls are sold as calves and about 40 bulls are taken through to finishing.

Heifers are run with an Angus bull – for ease of calving – at the end of November each year. Cows are AId using Simmental semen with a Simmental sweeper bull picking up any returning to service.

Although Aberdeen Angus bulls are traditionally used on heifers for ease of calving, Dr Pullar believes there is scope for using other breeds. As well as a beef value, recorded beef sires are also given a calving value. High positive values indicate sires giving minimal calving difficulties and short gestation lengths.

"Easy calving sires can be chosen from many breeds. For heifers, or cows with a history of calving difficulties, choose the maximum beef value sire which has a calving value of at least two." But ease of calving comes at the expense of beef value.

For mature cows, a calving value of 0-1 is acceptable and gives access to sires with higher beef values of 25 or more, leaving superior progeny, adds Dr Pullar.

So far, Mr Turner has not used beef or calving values when selecting beef bulls. Simmental bulls are sourced from a local pedigree herd.

"One Simmental used for AI on the herd has a calving value of three, indicating very easy calving. But he could do a lot better on beef value, which is -2," says Dr Pullar, having obtained figures from the herd owner. There are lots of other bulls available with the same calving ease but better beef values.

"The other Simm-ental used for natural service scores 0 for calving ease. His beef value of 12 is better, but a higher value would further imp-rove progeny conformation."

Carcass classifications for finished bulls from Easthall Farm range from O- to R. Cattle are finished on a home-mix of rolled barley and a 36% protein concentrate, giving a total ration protein content of 16%, plus ad-lib straw.

Angus bulls are slaughtered at 11-13 months old to prevent them from becoming overfat, whereas leaner Simmentals are kept until they are 12.5-14 months. Deadweights average 280-320kg and prices are currently averaging 150p/kg, says Mr Turner.

But higher prices could be achieved and finishing periods reduced by using top bulls, believes Dr Pullar. "The top 1% of a beef breeds bulls will leave finished progeny with better conformation scores, worth an extra £50-£60 a head.

"Progeny will also grow faster, finishing about three to four weeks earlier than those from an average bull. Assuming a feed cost of £1.20 a day, this amounts to a saving of almost £40 a head."

There may also be benefits from using top sires on calves sold. Some calf buyers will pay a £10-£15 premium for calves sired by top bulls, according to Dr Pullar.

Using top bulls is not an expensive option either, he adds. "Unlike dairy semen, even the best beef semen only costs about £8 a straw. Unless bulls are serving 50-60 cows a year, using semen is a cheaper option than maintaining a bull and better quality genetics can be afforded."

Information on AI bulls can be obtained from AI companies, breed societies or Signets Promising Young Bulls list, says Dr Pullar. "An example of an easy calving Simmental bull with a high beef value from Genuss list is Salisbury Challenger, with a calving value of two and a beef value of 29.

"This puts him in the top 10% of Simmentals for beef value and, according to the Genus calving survey, he only has 2.3% of assisted calvings making him a good choice for dairy producers."

Beef and calving values can be calculated for a sire from his relatives. But where possible, choosing a recorded bull with his own figures is more accurate, advises Dr Pullar.

&#8226 A copy of the MLCs booklet Beef Sires for the Dairy Herd can be obtained by telephoning 01908-677577 or faxing 01908-609221. &#42

BETTER DAIRY-BRED BEEF

&#8226 Use beef and calving values.

&#8226 Better conformation progeny.

&#8226 Potential £100/head more profit.