Beef database will help focus breeding strategies

Gathering statutory phenotypic data on cattle into a central database could help beef producers generate a more focused breeding strategy, said Alistair Carson, AFBI Hillsborough, speaking at the recent Beef Expo Northern Ireland, Dungannon.

Dr Carson has been involved in the Bovine Information System (BovIS), a single, unified beef phenotypic database using data from the Animal and Public Health Information Service (APHIS) and meat plants in Northern Ireland.

“This information could be used for benchmarking reproductive performance and carcass weight and to determine the genetic merit of an individual,” he said.

To date, the project has analysed 1.6m records and has identified 67 different sire breeds and 54 different dam breeds in NI. “About 90% of animals are from six breeds, with the top three breeds Charolais, Limousin and Holstein/Friesian.”

Calving index (CI) was also shown to vary across breeds with Charolais having a CI of 406 days, Belgium Blue 409 days and Holstein/Friesian 423 days. “All calving indexes were higher than optimum with Holstein/Friesian the highest,” said Dr Carson.

Information from meat plants also showed significant variation in performance with an average carcass gain of 0.44kg/day. “When this gain is lifted to 0.5kg/day, there would be the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8%.”

And how quickly an animal grows will affect conformation, with high growth rates producing better grades.

“This information will allow the formulation of robust models to predict how changing a sire or dam, or age at slaughter will affect performance. The database will provide us with information to drive genetic improvement,” he said.

“I encourage all producers to record animal sire on APHIS to allow us to improve genetic evaluation. The resulting EBVs are expected to have high reliability leading to an 18% increase in rates of genetic improvement in carcass weights and less carcass wastage.”

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