Given an increasing amount of beef coming from the dairy herd, a leading breeding company said this week that it was gearing up to meet the challenges that this sector sea-change could initiate.

Cogent said that its new Beef Breeding Programme will help improve efficiency in the dairy-cross-beef sector and provide greater consistency for the whole supply chain.

The background to this, is that it is estimated that around 50% of all beef in the UK is a product of the dairy herd, with this figure predicted to continue in an upward trend over the next five years. Therefore, improving the quality of these cattle could bring benefits to both dairy farmers and the wider beef supply chain.

Cogent said it had been working to strengthen its beef breeding programme over the past three years to help guide producers on breeding decisions which are likely to be more beneficial for the dairy-beef market. The programme had partnered with nucleus herds to develop reputable and bespoke genetics for each sire breed.

The argument is that by working with these herds, this will help produce consistent and desired sire lines where the marketable traits flow through to the cross-bred calf.

“The Cogent beef programme is designed to address the ever-increasing demand of using beef semen in the dairy herd, highlighting the importance of providing consistent genetics that are repeatable,” pointed out Boomer Birch, its beef programme manager.

Within this, bulls are bred for dairy industry-desired traits, such as conception rate, calving ease and gestation length. Long standing data collection – with more than 318,000 data points, increasing on a bi-weekly basis – enabled Cogent to monitor both the bull and its progeny’s performance before making the semen commercially available.

This means that sires from the breeding programme will have an average gestation length of 280 days and a calving ease of 97.9%, indicating that, on average, fewer than 3% of calvings will be difficult, or will require moderate assistance.

Calf quality varies with sire breed. The British Blue takes the highest quality at 91%, closely followed by the Aberdeen-Angus at 88%. This 'quality' is determined by a unique scoring system based on conformation and fleshing ability of the calf, defining the differences between continental and native cross-bred progeny.

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“The figures are calculated on each individual beef sire and are indicative of the benefits that the sire can contribute to the next generation when used in a dairy herd,” continued Mr Birch. “By publishing these figures, we provide the farmer with a monetary value that can be used to foresee the benefits of using such genetics within their enterprise.

“The main goal is to ensure selection of bulls that can perform in any system. To ensure this, we have partnered with some of the most forward-thinking, progressive beef herds in the UK to develop bloodlines which produce repeatable genetics, from calving ease right through to carcase quality.

“Having this relationship with our breeders is allowing us to fulfil the requirements of the whole supply chain and by utilising advanced breeding technologies, Cogent can create multiple pregnancies from programme-leading males and females to ensure they are bringing the correct genetics into the stud.”

Specific bulls originating from the breeding programme are currently averaging 512 days to slaughter, coupled with more than 87.4% of progeny achieving a 4L fat grade and below. Conformation stats also show that 97% of slaughtered progeny hit a 0+ grade, or higher. Kill out percentages are consistently averaging above 51.7%.

“So, for the dairy farmer that needs calves which are easily born, but of high quality; the grower who is looking for efficient, fast daily liveweight gain; the finisher who wants animals that lay down the correct ratios of muscle and fat, and finish quickly; and the processor who wants a carcase that consistently fits the spec' with minimal waste, the improved Cogent Beef Programme can provide a solution,” Mr Birch added.

The top 11 Aberdeen-Angus bulls for intramuscular fat (IMF) within the breed society register have been bred and developed by Cogent as a result of the strengthened beef programme, providing excellent eating quality, and ticking boxes for the retailer and consumer.

All 11 of these 2020 bulls have now entered semen production within Cogent’s highly bio-secure bull stud, providing high-performance, high-quality semen to both UK and international markets. Beef semen quality is suitable for male SexedULTRA 4M and advancements in media and sorting procedures has allowed production of male sexed semen of greater than 90% purity, matching the dairy standard offering.

“With the expected growth of the dairy-cross-beef market, the strengthening of the programme marks a real opportunity for producers to get the most from their calves and capitalise on a rapidly expanding sector,” Mr Birch concluded.