Introduction to the challenge addressed
The Certified Irish Angus Beef Producers was established by farmers in 1995 to improve the eating quality of beef, especially beef progeny from the Irish dairy herds. The group has developed to become Ireland’s largest beef producer group, with c10,000 farmer members producing c135,000 head of cattle each year.
The abolition of the EU dairy quota in 2015 resulted in an increase in the Irish dairy herd from c1.0m to c1.5m head of cows. Dairy farmers focused their breeding decisions on increased milk output and easy calving, which resulted in a reduction in quality from the beef progeny of the dairy herd. This was a particular challenge for the Certified Irish Angus Beef producers as quality is a hallmark of the brand and product at consumer level.
Description of the Good Practice
In response to this challenge, the Certified Irish Angus has embarked on a breed improvement program with the aim of improving the environmental and economic sustainability of its 10,000 active farmer members and improving the eating quality of the beef for consumers.
The group are adopting a multi-faceted approach targeting improvements in genetics, feeding and production management with the objectives of increasing the sustainability of Angus cattle production. Farmers will benefit from the continuous genetic improvement through increased environmental and financial sustainability as well as improved eating quality and marbling.
To accelerate change, in December 2021, in partnership with an AI company, Dovea Genetics, the Certified Irish Angus group purchased a top-quality young bull (Drumcrow Tribesman) from a well-known pedigree breeding herd.
Based on expert physical assessment coupled with ICBF Genomic evaluations, this exceptional Angus bull was chosen as best in class. It is now planned that Certified Irish Angus Producer Group will make this bull available through AI to pedigree Angus breeders, who in turn will sell male progeny to dairy farm Certified Irish Angus members, with the aim of improving the quality of the beef animals they produce.
Through the programme, participating pedigree Angus breeders will receive sexed semen from the AI company and when they register a calf from the Group’s bull, they will receive an €80 refund of the costs of the AI straws (1.8 straws refunded per calf) from the Certified Irish Angus Group. Subsequently, when a dairy farmer member of the Group purchases an Angus bull on the programme from the pedigree breeder, they will receive a voucher for a €200 refund.
The Certified Irish Angus Group will administer the programme and record and monitor progress through the data from the finished animals. The Group intend to use and analyse DNA samples from the bull and progeny to measure the improvements including in meat quality and marbling.
It is intended that the use of these superior genetics will increase the performance of Certified Irish Angus members cattle in terms improving the eating quality of the meat, shortening the time it takes to reach finishing weight, therefore improving economic and environmental sustainability.
Offspring from this programme will also be used in the Certified Irish Angus school competition which forms an education aide to students studying Agricultural Science at post primary level and provides students with an insight into efficient animal breeding, feeding, processing, and marketing.
Impact of farm performance
Improving the genetics of Angus cross calves will increase the economic and environmental sustainability as well as meat quality through marbling of Certified Irish Angus Group farmer members. The programme allows dairy farmers access to a panel of top-class bulls which will enhance quality and value of Angus cross calves. This will help maintain the significant price premium, worth an additional 20c to 30c/kg., Certified Irish Angus commands for beef from farmer members. Reducing the age of slaughter by just one month can cut GHG emissions by 250kg per animal.
“As a Certified Angus Group member, I am looking forward to utilising the new Elite Group Breeding Programme to improve the quality and sustainability of my angus cross calves from my dairy herd.”