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Understanding Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs)

24 January 2017

In January 2017, prior to the Spring Breeding Bull Sales, 3 practical workshops were held aimed at assisting producers to choose the ideal bull for their herd.  These workshops proved popular and effective in helping buyers of bulls interpret both EBVs (Estimated Breeding Value) cards along with  Health Cards (interpreting Johne’s ,BVD , TB and IBR status) which are presented in the catalogues and bull pens at the sales.

It is important for buyers of breeding bulls to buy the correct breeding for their herd.  With tighter abattoir specification becoming more widespread, it is especially important for farmers to select bulls that complement their cows in order to ensure they produce cattle to suit their chosen market

  • EBVs are another tool to use when purchasing bulls alongside visual assessment. Comparing the use of EBVs with buying a car,:  EBVs will not tell you how a bull was reared or how it has been fed, but using them does give you an idea of what is going on under the bonnet.
  • A visual assessment should be carried out initially for character, shape, conformation, legs and feet – all of which EBVs cannot convey.
  • Herd management also has an important role to play here as with EBVs such as calving ease. Remember at calving time, how easily the cow will calve is 75% down to management and 25% genetics!
  • Producers cannot suddenly change overnight and breeding decisions made now will not generate results for some time. With this in mind, specifications such as weight limits must be consistent to allow producers to make informed decisions when purchasing bulls.
  • Some producers are also moving towards more maternal cow types in order to have a cow suited to her farm environment. They are combining this with looking to achieve increased fat cover, good fertility and good longevity and it is important to bear this in mind when selecting a bull.
  • Care must be taken with this strategy to achieve the correct balance since many abattoirs report heifers being slaughtered with too much fat cover resulting in penalties to the finisher.
  • The EBV for fat cover has become more important. Previously, recorded breeding bulls have been rewarded for leanness. However, this has led to cattle reaching very heavy weights with little fat cover being laid down.  This is no longer in such demand by finishers following the cap on finished weight being demanded by processors.

It is increasingly important that the bulls purchased for the farm have the desired health status and the purchaser is fully aware of it.

Related Downloads
Bull Selection Guide
A practical guide to bull selection and management.

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