Beef sire worth up to €200 more in dairy-cross calf profit

Selecting the right beef bull on terminal traits could benefit Irish beef farm margins by €150-€200 a head in carcass quality and feed efficiency, according to a national initiative.

Industry experts on the Gene Ireland project are now calling on dairy farmers to select beef bulls for traits such as feed intake, conformation and carcass weight, as well as gestation length and calving ease.

The national partnership – combining Teagasc, the ICBF (Irish Cattle Breeders Federation) and the ABP Food Group – aims to improve the genetic merit of the expanding dairy-cross beef calf supply from Ireland’s expanding dairy sector (see graph below). 

Slaughterhouse, farm and feedlot data is proving that easy-calving, short gestation bulls picked on terminal qualities (5 and 4-star for carcass traits) can produce higher value carcasses faster. The trial found that:

  • Best Angus sires had heifer progeny with carcasses worth €290 more at 69.52kg heavier and steer progeny worth €191 more at 32.68kg heavier
  • Best Hereford sires had heifer progeny with carcasses worth €187 more at 22.57kg heavier and steer progeny worth €218 at 48.86kg heavier
  • At around 30kg heavier @€4/kg and finishing 19 days earlier (€1.18 a day) this was worth €159 to gross margins

Project design

Gene Ireland Dairy Beef Breeding Programme: Project Facts

  • Collaborative project between ICBF, Teagasc and ABP Food Group
  • 15,000 semen doses sent to over 200 dairy herds to date
  • A total of 45 beef bulls have been tested to date. Mainly Angus and Hereford Bulls with some Limousin and Shorthorn
  • Progeny sold deadweight on EUROP grid at ABP Cahir

How the project works

  • Where are calves being reared?

600 calves are bought by ABP each year of which 250 are reared at Teagascs’s Johnstown farm. A further 350 calves are reared on ABP’s trial farm, owned by livestock farmers James and Michael Sheppard, Clongarron, Enniscorthy, County Carlow, of which 50-100 are monitored for feed intake at ICBF Tully, a cattle-feeding station measuring feed intake.

  • What is being measured on farm?

Calf vigour, calf size, calf quality scoring, weight gain from arrival to weaning, weight gain from weaning to turn out, monthly weights, health incidence are recorded. Feed intake has so far been measured on 150 animals at ICBF Tully.


Better conformation and feed efficiency

Slaughter and performance data also accounts for feed conversion efficiency as measured at the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation’s Feed Evaluation Centre at Tully, County Kildare.

Results from 50 Hereford-cross and Angus-cross steers taken from the ABP Trial farm on a 77-day feed intake trial at Tully showed 5-star bulls realised €77.40 more profit over the feedlot period.

Table showing how 5* and 4* bulls produced superior progeny



Carcass weight (KG)

Average daily gain (kg)

Feed conversion efficiency (kg DM)

RGZ 4/5* on terminal index

Aberdeen Angus




GPZ 4/5* on terminal index










ZTP 1* on terminal index

Aberdeen Angus




Steers by the bull RGZ gained 0.38kg a head/day more to yield a carcass worth €102 more compared to bull ZTP at 6c/kg more.

RGZ steers were 11.5kg heavier at purchase so cost €23 more. They had a better feed conversion rate of 7.37kg DM:1kg carcass weight gained and cost €2.60 more to feed.

Therefore €102 – €23 – €2.60 = €75.40 more profit 

Project findings

So far, the study has verified Ireland’s 5-star beef rating system, explains PhD student Stephen Connolly of the ABP Food Group, who is overseeing the project.

Mr Connolly has found that progeny from bulls with 4* and 5* carcass traits had better feed conversion and carcasses than those from 1-star and 2-star sires.

But this extra gain did not come at a cost to the dairy farmer, explains Mr Connolly, as the best bulls also suited dairy systems, being short gestation and east calving.

The best Aberdeen Angus bull, RGZ, is rated 4-star for carcass traits and 5-star for conformation, while GPZ, the best Hereford bull, is 5-star for carcass traits and 4-star for conformation.

“This helps to verify the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) star-rating system and shows farmers that we can have bulls that suit a dairy farm and a beef farm’s needs,” says Mr Connolly.

Project impact

The research is of huge direct benefit to the beef sector and will also help dairy farmers, says Mr Connolly.

Choosing beef stock bulls or AI bulls on terminal traits, he explains, is already becoming a marketing tool for some progressive dairy farmers and can be worth a €10-€15 premium for good dairy-cross calves.

“We need collaboration for this to work,” he adds. “Beef farmers need to ask questions about where their calves come from.

“By finding out the sire of the calf they can buy calves on genetics and not on looks alone. Some people are already buying calves on carcass traits by getting the sire’s eartag number and searching for it in ICBF’s herdplus website.”