The row about ICBF's Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) is raising heckles amongst breeders. ICBF want to initiate voluntary on-farm inspections to put an end to accusations that some breeders have falsified information about their animals.
We spoke to some of those representing breeders' associations to hear their views on it.
A senior member of one breeding association, who asked not to be named, defended ICBF but thinks the scheme will not work:
“The problem is the farmer decides when visits will happen so verifying calving dates will not be possible. It might help with authenticating sectioned births from natural births but they need to do more than one inspection per year. If the farmer had a choice between genomic testing and being inspected there'd be more benefit in genomics, as it has higher reliability. So [BDGP] is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't go far enough and probably won't help with identifying falsified information. I won't be joining the scheme but I will be aiming for 100% genomics.”
“Our suckler farms are not viable. We've got hobby farmers breeding the animals they like, regardless of performance. We need more kg per hectare. Stocking rate is everything going forward. People can criticise the ICBF but genomics will drive it that way anyhow. Beef farmers have to be looking at the benefits of ICBF to the industry. For example, where you had 3-4% hard calvers five years ago, now you have practically none. I've been all over the world and anywhere I've gone people would give their left arm for an organisation like ICBF. They're independent, and within reason their figures are accurate.”
Nevan McKiernan of the Irish Charolais Cattle Society told That's Farming: “Of course we will participate as long as its simple to do so. As long as it's not too difficult, it'll be beneficial for breeders and ICBF. If it makes the indexes more accurate we're all for it.”
However Nevan does not think the details the scheme have been fully worked out: “We have worries. One is, if heavy cows in calf were going up crushes they might be hurt. The other is the cost of a day spent herding cattle into the yard and examining them. We would also be concerned about the danger to older farmers of getting young calves up in scales.”
If these details can be worked out Nevan feels the scheme will be supportive to breeders. “It will help farmers selling bulls and it will back up genomics. But I wouldn't like to see a day when figures are based on genomics alone. We need on-farm performance information too. We'd hope it will improve the indexes of charolais cows.
“It might help to identify false information, but there's no guarantee it will. I don't think there's an awful lot of breeders putting down false information. I think that's unfair. You may have that [happening], but the way it was put out there by the newspapers was completely unfair. Everybody was on the breeders backs but they were the people contributing the information to ICBF.
“ICBF will have to work with the breeders and make it as easy as possible. They were talking about carrying out inspections in winter, but cattle look worse in winter, they're indoors on slats, they lose condition, their coats get all matted. There is no easy answer to it.
“We would like ICBF to simplify it in a way that it's easy for the breeder, so that the information will produce more accurate indexes. We just want ICBF to meet the breeders half way.”
Nevan is worried that many farmers are overly reliant on indexes and that this could have negative implications for breeds into the future. He explains: “At the moment suckler farmers going out and buying beef bulls on indexes alone. We would advise against buying on figures alone. Breeders always say, 'bloodlines come first, looks come second and figures come third'.
“In the charolais society we have been introducing French and English bloodlines. Even though they might be fine animals, they have low reliability at first and breeders won't trust them. We need to build up an index on new animals or the gene pool will become too small. That is the danger of relying on high-index animals.”