Colm Kelly, B&T Drystock Adviser at Teagasc, Galway/Clare, has used hiring an employee as an analogy to selecting breeding heifers to engage a farmer’s business mindset.
He advises farmers to use the Eurostar index to create a shortlist, to target calving at 2 years of age, to check docility and functionality and recognise efficiency as important regardless of market outlets when earmarking replacement sucklers.
Kelly has provided a selection checklist containing the following elements:
- Euro-star Index – A heifer’s CV;
- Weight targets – Tell me about yourself.
- Docility – team-working skills;
- Functionality – the ability to perform under pressure;
- Weanling or finishing – suitability to a role.
The Teagasc advisor says this is an opportunity to pick through the field and decide which heifers to put forward for interview.
Firstly, identify heifers that are 5-star, he suggests. The star ratings are a visual representation showing the top 20% for predicted performance or trait as 5-star and the top 40% as 4-star.
These hinge on a monetary value index, and the higher the monetary value, the higher a heifer is rated.
He advises suckler farmers to pay particular attention to the sub-indices for daughter calving difficulty, milk kgs and daughter calving interval as indicators of predicted performance for key reproductive traits.
Then, compare the sub-index rating figure to the breed average to identify animals with a higher predicted performance ceiling.
He said: “The ancestry breakdown is also a good opportunity to put a bit of nepotism into practice.”
“Heifers out of strong performing parents on maternal traits is a further layer of information to inform the selection process.”
“Genotyping increases the accuracy of an animal’s Eurostar index by identifying genes associated with beneficial production traits.”
“After this process, you should have a shortlist of heifers to interview,” he advises.
Docility, he highlights, is a key part of overall herd management and safety. A herd that is easy to get in and handle has “enormous unseen” value, particularly where farmers are working alone.
An animal that is manageable at critical points for health and safety throughout the year, whether that be loading, at calving or when in for routine treatments, is, as he says, of huge value.
“We all know a few very capable people that no one can work with,” he remarked.
“If the heifer has issues with authority figures, there is no point taking her on.”
The weight targets, he continues, are 60% of mature weight at mating, which is important to ensure heifers are cycling and is a good indicator that they can achieve a “decent” level of maturity by calving.
He said: “Calving at two years remains stubbornly low nationally. The inefficiencies of not calving at two years are twofold.”
“It is the business equivalent of taking on someone and leaving them in the canteen with nothing to do for 6-12 months. “
However, some farmers’ concerns centre around too small at breeding, too difficult to calf, they will not calve down again as second calvers, or it will stunt them.
The basics of ‘stockpersonship’ are still as important as ever, so check the heifer nose to tail for functional faults.
Then, assess the heifer’s ability to calve easily and for conformation traits that will combine with the bull utilised to produce the desired offspring for the system you operate.
Weanling or finishing
Selling through a mart or direct to an abattoir can have a significant impact on breeding decisions you make, he says,
Success in mart sales, as he defines it, is dependent on the biases of the purchaser, who combines weight and age information with their own personal preferences when making a decision.
“It is a regular piece of feedback from weanling producers that they feel these biases can lead to some efficiently produced animals not realising the top of the market returns due to coat colour or breed makeup etc.”
“Finishing direct to a factory is more analytical in that payment is based on weight and carcase spec, which allows breeders to focus on meeting those targets.”
“It is important that market breeding decisions are taken in combination with the breeding efficiency criteria regardless of the market targeted,” he concludes.