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Genomics goes big for Irish beef industry

The abolition of EU milk quotas effective March next year, has the potential to change the landscape of the Irish cattle industry. AbacusBio consultants have been providing strategic guidance in an industry-wide beef genomics programme in Ireland for some time.

Peter Amer and Fiona Hely are working with Andrew Cromie of the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation to define the type of suckler beef herds most likely to convert to dairy and the impact on the beef sire industry. Peter also sits on the steering group of international experts overseeing this project.

Traditionally in Ireland, there has been a higher proportion of beef sire matings over dairy cows than in New Zealand.

“Even if farmers convert from beef to dairy, they may still use beef sires, instead of dairy, across their cows. As such, the overall number of beef sires would not decline to a large extent,” Fiona says.

As many suckler beef farms in Ireland have very small herd sizes and are therefore not suitable for dairying, a significant demand for bulls across all beef breeds is expected.

The significant lift in beef productivity and profitability, by enhancing genetic progress from genomics, could lead to overall agricultural productivity gains across both beef and dairy industries.

The project has leveraged the huge cattle movement database in Ireland, which captures the sire breed of every calf born. By tracking these data, Fiona was able to work out which sire breeds are most heavily used in large beef herds, in regions of Ireland where there is a high risk of farms converting from beef to dairy farming.

A shift in breeding requirements is anticipated when farmers convert from beef to dairy farming. The British breeds i.e. Angus and Hereford are generally preferred to continental origin sire breeds i.e. Charolais, Limousin, and Belgium Blue.

The next step is for AbacusBio consultants to build on this work to identify changes to industry breeding structures and new developments that will make the best use of genomic information.