Avoid carcass penalties with free EBV workshops

A series of free workshops on estimated breeding values (EBVs) workshops are being held across Scotland by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS). The aim is to help beef producers select the right bull ahead of the annual spring sales to ensure offspring meets new abattoir specifications.

SRUC beef specialist Gavin Hill, who will be speaking at the meetings, says the additional financial challenges farmers face this year mean it is vital producers ensure they buy the right bull for their herds.

“With tighter abattoir specification becoming more widespread, it is especially important for farmers to select bulls that complement their cows in order to ensure they produce cattle to suit their chosen market,” explains Mr Hill.

Balancing fat cover

“Some producers are also moving towards more maternal cow types in order to have a cow well suited to her farm environment. They are combining this with the aim to achieve increased fat cover, good fertility and good longevity and it is important to bear this in mind when selecting a bull.”

“The biggest differences in terms of performance are very often to be found within breeds rather than between breeds – changing breed is not always the answer.”

Find an EBV workshop near you

  • Lanark Agricultural Centre, Lanark, ML11 9AX on Wednesday 27 January at 11am.
  • Woodlands House Hotel, Dumfries, DG2 0HZ on Thursday 28 January at 11am.

Lunch will be provided at both meetings.

For more information and details on how you can register visit the QMS website.

However, Mr Hill warns care must be taken with this strategy to achieve the correct balance as many abattoirs are reporting heifers are being slaughtered with too much fat cover, which is resulting in penalties to the finisher. He stresses that using an appropriate feeding strategy can help tackle this problem. 

See also: How to use EBVs when buying bulls

“The EBV for fat cover has become more important,” he adds.

Previously, recorded breeding bulls have been rewarded for leanness. However, this has led to cattle reaching very heavy weights with little fat cover being laid down. This is no longer in such demand by finishers following the cap on finished weight being demanded by processors, he says.

“However, producers cannot suddenly change overnight and breeding decisions made now will not generate results for some time. With this in mind, specifications such as weight limits must be consistent to allow producers to make informed decisions when purchasing bulls.

“Many of these cattle tended also to be from continental type cows, which led to further leanness issues.  Over the past few years both the Charolais and Limousin breeds have moved the fat EBV to reward bulls with higher levels of fat.”

Mr Hill believes EBVs are another tool to use when purchasing bulls alongside visual assessment and compares the use of EBVs with buying a car.

“EBVs will not tell you how a bull was reared or how it has been fed, but using them does give you an idea of what is going on under the bonnet.”

Visual assessments remain key

He advocates a visual assessment should first be carried out for character, shape, conformation, legs and feet – all of which EBVs cannot convey.

An EBV is a value that expresses the difference (plus or minus) between an individual animal and the breed benchmark to which the animal is being compared.

See also: Focus on carcass traits helps produce NZ high-quality grass-fed beef

However, herd management also has an important role to play. Mr Hill adds: “Remember at calving time, how easily the cow will calve is 75% down to management and 25% genetics.”


Part of the workshop will also include an explanation of the health cards – covering Johne’s and bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) – available at the bull sales.

Robert Gilchrist, knowledge transfer specialist with QMS, says the forthcoming meetings are aimed at helping beef farmers produce for the marketplace by using all the tools available to help them select the right breeding bulls.