A series of free practical workshops to assist beef producers to select the most efficient and profitable breeding lines is being held across Scotland by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).
With the annual spring bull sales fast approaching the open events are aimed at assisting producers to choose the ideal bull for their herd by including Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) in their selection process.
SRUC Beef Specialist Gavin Hill, who will be speaking at the meetings, said that the additional financial challenges facing farmers 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,” said Mr Hill.
“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 looking to achieve increased fat cover, good fertility and good longevity and it is important to bear this in mind when selecting a bull.”
However, Mr Hill warns care must be taken with this strategy to achieve the correct balance since many abattoirs report heifers being slaughtered with too much fat cover resulting in penalties to the finisher. He stressed that using an appropriate feeding strategy can help tackle this problem.
"The EBV for fat cover has become more important,” he said. 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.
"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 last few years both the Charolais and Limousin breeds have moved the Fat EBV to reward bulls with higher levels of fat."
Mr Hill believes that EBVs are another tool to use when purchasing bulls alongside visual assessment. Comparing the use of EBVs with buying a car, he says: "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."
He advocates that first a visual assessment should be carried out for character, shape, conformation, legs and feet - all of which EBVs cannot convey.
An EBV is a value which expresses the difference (plus or minus) between an individual animal and the breed benchmark to which the animal is being compared. However, herd management also has an important role to play here as with EBVs such as calving ease. Mr Hill added: "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 BVD (Bovine Virus Diarrhoea) available at the bull sales.
Robert Gilchrist, Knowledge Transfer Specialist with QMS, said the forthcoming meetings are aimed at helping beef producers to produce for the market place by using all the tools available to help them select the right breeding bulls.
“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,” observed Mr Gilchrist.
The EBV workshops will be held at Lanark Agricultural Centre, Lanark, ML11 9AX on Wednesday 27 January and Woodlands House Hotel, Dumfries, DG2 0HZ on Thursday 28 January. Both meetings begin at 11am and lunch will be provided. For more information and details on how you can register click here