Maternal Matters: Using EBVs and Indexes for selection in the suckler herd

Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) and Breed Indexes must be considered whenever breeding stock are being selected and paired. The end market for the progeny must be accounted for alongside the goals of the business/herd.

Why should I consider EBVs and Breed Indexes?

Estimated breeding values (EBVs) and Breeding Indexes are the most common estimation of an animal’s breeding potential we have available to us. They strip out other effects on performance, including the management and environment in which that animal was reared and leave you with the best estimation of true genetic merit, which the animal will ultimately pass to their offspring. 

When animals are selected purely on looks, you don’t just see the genetics; you also see a combination of feeding, management, health and even the additional effort put in for photographs/the show ring, etc. 

Selecting animals purely on looks is risky. Its genetics could take your herd forwards or backwards – and if you’re breeding replacements, that risk is carried into the future years of the herd too. Using EBVs and Indexes reduces that risk.

How can I use EBVs in a commercial suckler herd?

Any bulls used, whether they are natural service or AI, should have their figures carefully scrutinised, and you should be comfortable they have the right genetics for you. 

If breeding your own female replacements, ensure the sires figures have been considered as a minimum. In pedigree herds, dams and sires should have EBVs that can be examined. 

If buying in female replacements, enquire about the sire of the replacements as a minimum. This sire can then be looked up, and you can assess his EBVs. 

As a rule of thumb, whenever you are considering bringing new genetics into the herd, whether it be live animals or semen, ask the seller for the figures that accompany them.

Find out more about selecting maternal genetics

Choosing Bulls for commercial heifers

It is important to consider bull/female choice in two breeding scenarios for replacement heifers:

  • Which breeding animals will you use to produce replacement heifers?
  • Which bulls will you use on those replacement heifers for them to produce their first calf?

This section considers the latter.

Find out more about selecting bulls for commercial heifers