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Role of maternal genetics and genomics in beef breeding

How will improving maternal genetics add to beef genetic improvement programmes in Ireland and what is the role of genomics?

These are key questions for this collaborative project between AbacusBio and Gene Ireland.

Peter Amer and Fiona Hely created a benefits model for the maternal beef breeding programme to find the answers.

The Gene Ireland Maternal Beef Breeding programme was launched in 2012 by the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF), in conjunction with Irish beef breed societies and industry partners.

The aim is to increase the number of maternal beef bulls being progeny tested on an annual basis. As such, the programme helps identify top maternal bulls and top data-recording pedigree herds.

Following the introduction of the suckler beef genomics programme and the beef data and genomics programme (BDGP), ICBF wishes to estimate the benefits ofthe Gene Ireland Maternal Beef Breeding programme and GIBB initiative, and how these benefits change with the introduction of genomics.

Working closely with ICBF, Fiona combined detailed data from the Limousin breed on industry statistics, sire origins, and genetic evaluation results with a model that predicts the flows of genetic gains, through tiered industry structures.

The results show that increasing the usage of Gene Ireland artificially inseminated(AI) bulls to 30% in all pedigree herds produces an extra 44.8 million euros in total benefits from genetics after 20 years.

In commercial herds, using 20% Gene Ireland AI bulls leads to an additional 42 million euros over pedigree herds over the same period of time.

However, there is also the potential for a greater level of artificial inseminationin Irish commercial herds. For example, by mating the best cows to proven maternal bulls in order to generate replacement heifers.

While higher-merit foreign AI sires produce good short-term results for carcass traits, the wider usage of Gene Ireland AI bulls is found to be a significantly better long-term strategy.

“This is because in order to maintain beef cow herd profitability, we need to improve the maternal ability of the cowherd,” Peter explains.

The results also highlight the need to expand the number of breeder herds from which elite bulls can be sourced for progeny testing, says Andrew Cromie, the technical director of ICBF.

“Currently there are only 300 bullbreeding herds, but if we have more of these herds involved, the opportunities for industry impact will be much greater.”

Using genomics to select Gene Ireland progeny test candidates from all pedigree herds adds 22 million euros after 20 years.

“Genomics has the potential to be transformational for the Irish beef sector,” Peter says.