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The star rating approach favours first-generation calves coming out of dairy herds – Beef Plan

Beef Plan outlines why it wishes to challenge the link to genomic and star ratings for CAP payments.

We are supportive of a move to a more scientific approach to managing herds and genomics.

However, the movement respectfully requests an independent assessment of ICBF’s approach and metrics.

Our key concerns are:

  • There has been no independent validation of the efficacy of the models used. Most of ICBF’s justification is using the worst year of the decade (2014) as a baseline. This, in our view, overestimates any gains made in the meantime;
  • There is no transparent approach on backtesting of model outputs and model validation;
  • The compulsory requirements of the scheme confirm ICBF’s bias, which in turn, is used as confirmation of progress.

Based on phenotypic evidence in ICBF’s own evaluations, we note a disconnection between animal breeding values and their actual performance.

This is evident at a national and individual level. Phenotypic data demonstrates clearly that older high performing sires are lower-rated under the ICBF when compared with low-reliability younger bulls.

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While there is a school of thought that discounts the values of these older pedigree bloodlines, the history, quality and performance of these purebred genetics speaks for itself.

We would also like to note that suckler herds have sufficient milk, and all the other key criteria (weight, conformation, feed conversion, fertility etc) are met without adding genes from the dairy herd.

The star rating approach favours first-generation calves coming out of dairy herds. These can take over three generations of breeding to improve the terminal traits to an acceptable level.

It has never been more important to enhance the beef merits of calves from our dairy herd. While this may impact milk quantity produced, it is a more sustainable route for farming in Ireland.

Dual breeds and reducing emissions

We would like to see more of an emphasis on dual breeds, e.g. British Friesian cows that produce both good quantities of milk and calves that are of benefit to the beef industry.

There is also an environmental benefit as these calves can be finished up to 6 months sooner than purely dairy breeds.

For example, should 100,000 cattle be finished six months earlier, due to improved breeding, there would be a corresponding decrease in methane emissions of approximately 5,500 tonnes per annum.

It is worth noting that there are almost 2 million cows in our national dairy herd. All are producing higher nitrates/emissions than the average suckler cow.

ICBF board rep 

We wish to propose a representative on the board of ICBF to better represent the view of the suckler beef farmer. Furthermore, we urgently request independent academic validation of the approach and output of the star rating system.

We also recommend introducing more qualitative metrics (e.g. ease of fleshing, feed efficiency) before the star rating is used as a basis for determining CAP support for the suckler farmers.

Quality assurance

Another area we would like to see the department rethink is the requirement for small-scale suckler farmers who do not finish cattle to be quality assured to enable them to participate in the new suckler scheme.

The added bureaucracy of making the Board Bia Quality Assurance requirements compulsory for all herds regardless of size, will add an unsustainable burden, placing extra hurdles on smaller farmers who promote bio-diversity and land use in remote areas.

Well-managed grazing has a host of biodiversity, water retention, soil quality and sequestration benefits that will be lost if it is converted to arable.

The piece formed part of Beef Plan’s CAP submission compiled by its suckler committee under chairman Pat Nagle.

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