Until the advent in the early nineties of the first useful genetic data on Limousin, there was no tangible breeding programme in Irish Limousin. Everyone did their own thing, attempting to follow the traditional direction of pedigree breeding, namely responding to perceived market demands. This was done by means of the traditional "trickle down" system, whereby top breeders supplied stock bulls for use by other breeders, and thus a direction was created. Usually by the time the breeders had got there, the commercial market had gone somewhere else.
It was the advent of wider recording, combined with greater and cheaper computing power, that revolutionised the situation. The best example of all in this respect has been the docility / wildness problem in the breed. In the pre genetic index time, breeders would buy a "quiet" bull and then wonder why his progeny were wild. Firstly, there was the lack of understanding that an animal can be tamed, thus fooling the purchaser or owner and secondly, there was no knowledge of the hidden genetic content. That has been the great power of BLUP in all the traits. In effect in computer parlance, when you look at a bull, 'you are not seeing what you are getting'. BLUP makes a best attempt to tell you what you cannot see.
Follow the French
In essence what has evolved in Ireland, is a world unique, dynamic, mass use of the top bulls as identified in the French programme. This has been concentrated on the Moussours bulls, those whose daughters have been qualified on the maternal traits of Fertility, Ease of Calving and Milkability. Usage of this type would not generally be popular in France, where breeding tends to be compartmentalised by bloodline / breeder loyalty and secondly A.I. usage is very low compared to in Ireland where it is approx. 70%. Where the Irish situation is unique is firstly in this high degree of A.I. usage, and secondly, in that the usage is now at the criss cross stage and even beyond. By this is meant calves are now being produced, sired by a current top bull and out a dam who is also one of these top bulls, and futhermore in increasing numbers, the Grandam likewise. When these young prospects are recorded and then the best used back on the national herd, we will really see the true power of the system.
This slide shows how the French system is putting most emphasis on milk, growth and muscle development - objectives very much in line with the needs of the industry in Ireland.
Here we see a great emphasis on growth rate, a previously weak area for the breed. This is to be achieved without causing an increase in calving problems.
This illustrates the general new direction of the breed in the French programme, leaning more towards conformation and less towards size, this being in line with the general European trend towards younger, better shaped carcases.
This shows the main difference between the previous ISEVR synthetic / compound index and the new IVMAT index which recognizes the need to gain most of the desired increased growth rate, from the mother's milk. This again also fits the Irish scene.
Dilution / Concentration
Thus the breeding programme in Irish Limousin is at this stage one of diluting away the poorer genetics and concentrating the desirable. We know that when this is done, we are already producing a small percentage of progeny who are theoretically better than their illustrious parents. But which are they.?? That leads us to the next and most important development ever to hit Irish Cattle Breeding, namely the setting up of the new
Irish Cattle Breeding Federation
ICBF is a newly formed Federation made up of Breeding Societies, A.I. Organisations, Recording Organisations and Farmers' Association representatives, set up in 2000. It's principle aim is to rationalize the whole area of cattle breeding, the core element being the entering of all relevant data into one central database in this case the IRIS v3 Oracle based system developed by CR-Delta in Holland.
Unique Animal ID
A crucial development that has occurred in parallel is the adoption within Ireland over the past five years of the new EU two tag indentification system. This means that there is now an unique identifier for all bovine animals, thus allowing far more efficient recording of all performance data, no matter where from. This will allow accurate recording of initially up to 50,000 and later up to 100,000 commercial beef cows, who will become the test bed of the new genetics coming forward. That is how the elusive vital progeny will be found, who are themselves superior to their parents.
So who is important in Irish Limousin cattle breeding?
Who has the top herds?
The most important breeders without doubt are those eight hundred who produce four or less calves a year. It is they who make or break the breed. It is imperative that they just use a mere handful of highly proven A.I. bulls correctly matched to their cows. This is precisely what they are doing, and this is now fully reflected in the show rings and sales rings of Ireland and in the genetic trend statistics.
The breeders needing most careful guidance are those who have enough cows to make A.I. difficult, and not enough to invest in a top class stock bull, or rather bulls to suit their cows. They pose the greatest danger of producing stock which will fail to satisfy the commercial purchaser. Remember that in France, a breeder invariably has two, three or more stock bulls for matching his females.
The most interesting breeders are those fully committed operators with the larger herds who are having to swim harder and harder to keep abreast of the "All A.I." small units, a nearly impossible but highly challenging task. Perhaps out of this challenge may come the real winners as it is in this sector that the most accurate contemporary group recording can take place.
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