THE ULTIMATE SUCKLER BREED

Irish Salers statement 12/12/2023

“The Irish Salers Cattle Society has today sent the following letter to ICBF, Teagasc and the Department of Agriculture in relation to the new star indices”                                                                   

To whom it may concern,

I am writing to you in relation to the new replacement and terminal indices. The Salers Cattle Society engaged constructively and listened calmly throughout the year at all meetings provided in advance of the release of the new figures. Despite this, and in spite of our best efforts to understand and pre-empt the impact of the new traits and weightings on our breed, we could not have predicted the chaos and disillusionment that these changes would cause. The main focus of our concern is with the replacement index and the changes that have occurred therein.

We have taken time to consult with our membership and seek as much feedback as possible. We have also received feedback from commercial farmers whose herds are Salers based. As a result, we are well placed to outline the main issues as outlined to us.

  • Many breeders are reporting that top-performing cows in their herds have not just dropped in the replacement index but have plummeted. These are cows with excellent fertility / calving interval, calving ability, mothering ability, milk, longevity, etc. Breeders are struggling to understand how many of their top-performing cows can be so drastically downgraded under this new algorithm. This has caused many to question the validity of the index.
  • Conversely, many breeders are reporting that some of their poorer performing cows, and in some cases “passengers” that were earmarked for culling, have gone up on the replacement index.
  • The degree to which lighter cows are rewarded and heavier cows punished seems excessive. This is particularly felt by commercial farmers selling progeny as weanlings.
  • There appears to be an over emphasis on easy calving. It has been noted that many of the bulls that have risen to the very top of the replacement index are very easy calving and were purchased by AI companies for the sole purpose of meeting the needs of dairy farmers calving 22 – 24 month old dairy heifers. If these bulls, at the very top of the replacement index, are used as per their figures to produce the next generation of suckler cows, we will be left with a herd of small cows with narrow pelvises and extremely poor calving ability, incapable of calving or rearing a profitable weanling.
  • Several of our members have made their own queries to ICBF in relation to specific cows and the feedback seems to be that top-performing cows rearing heavy calves on a consistent basis are being punished for being too milky. The theory seems to be that such a cow / calf unit is proportionately more costly to keep economically and environmentally. This makes no sense, given that it would inevitably require less such cows / calves to produce the same amount of beef as the “new” cow type being promoted.
  • The replacement figures on several AI bulls with high reliability have become puzzlingly poor.
  • Many farmers engaging in the SCEP scheme are now faced with not being able to keep replacement heifers from their best cows, such is the hit in figures. We will either see an incredible loss of top genetics or a significant exodus from the scheme.

We feel that the balance and weightings allocated to the various traits in this latest run are simply not going to work for farmers on the ground. Having examined how these new changes have impacted their herds, many farmers have lost all faith in the star ratings. Many are considering exiting the SCEP scheme if necessary in order to pursue a more balanced breeding programme.

Our feedback indicates that a large majority of farmers are utterly disillusioned with the indices and are fed up. It is felt that the figures and associated SCEP scheme are no longer relevant to suckler farmers who sell weanlings in particular.

Communication with breed societies in the lead up to the new indices was not what it should have been. There was little effort made to communicate the real & tangible impacts these changes would have on herds and on farmers’ breeding plans. The closest we got was the publication of mere breed averages, and this was only released at the eleventh hour following strong demands from breed societies. Averages are often not useful when dealing with such a broad range and this is very much the case here. At no point during the communication process did ICBF indicate that so many top-performing, previously high-indexed animals would be downgraded to such a degree.

We urge Teagasc and ICBF to revisit the indices. The addition of new traits and the resultant changes to weightings need to be re-examined in order to bring about a more balanced and workable algorithm.

Yours faithfully,

Declan Bell

Chairman

Salers Cattle Society of Ireland