Beef suckler herd efficiency
The aim of an efficient beef suckler herd should be to calve the herd over a short season (9-12 weeks) at the same time each year and wean one calf per cow put with the bull, at the lowest cost possible.
Having a compact calving pattern means having all cows at the same stage of pregnancy/lactation at the same time, and brings the following benefits:
1. More efficient feeding of cows, resulting in
- Cows in correct body condition
- Calf birth weight optimised
- Fewer calving difficulties
- Improved milk production and therefore improved calf growth rates
2. More efficient supervision at calving time
- Less stress for cow and calf so calf quicker to get up to suckle
- Fewer cow/calf losses
- Reduced incidence of calf diseases such as scour, navel ill, joint ill etc
3. Even batches of calves to rear
- More efficient feeding of calves
- Simpler management of calves eg even batches for dehorning, castration, vaccination, weaning etc
- Evenly sized calves grouped together for sale
A compact calving period can be achieved through having:
– Fertile cows in correct body condition, that are cycling before the bull goes in
– Fertile bulls running for a restricted breeding period (9-10 weeks)
– A good replacement heifer breeding policy
– A good infectious disease status and good biosecurity procedures in place to maintain this status
Cow fertility relies on good nutritional management i.e. having cows in the correct body condition score at calving as this has a direct effect on the time between calving and coming in season again. Infectious disease control is also paramount, as diseases such as BVD, IBR, Campylobacter and Leptospirosis will adversely affect fertility. After the 10-week mating period the bulls must be removed and cows should be ultrasound scanned for pregnancy diagnosis 6 – 8 weeks later. This allows early identification of empty cows and these animals can be culled or sold on.
Bull Selection and Fertility is vital in order to maximise the number of calves born. The bull should produce calves that are born easily, grow rapidly and produce a good carcase. This information is available for most bulls through EBV’s (estimated breeding values) displayed at most sales.
Purchased bulls should be isolated on arrival and screened for BVD and Johnes status (plus Leptospirosis and IBR tested and/or vaccinated where appropriate). Hired bulls and mature bulls represent a major disease risk, especially with regard to Campylobacter.
All bulls should be examined 1 – 2 months before the mating period to ensure they are sound for breeding. This should include;
- General health – body condition (fit not fat), teeth, eyes
- Mobility – foot conditions, conformation, injury
- Reproductive system – testicular size, symmetry and consistency
- Semen evaluation – collection by electro-ejaculation and examination of semen under microscope (contact the surgery to arrange this)
Replacement heifers would ideally be homebred or purchased as yearlings from a known source. They should be calving at 2 years of age, in good body condition (BCS 3), to an easy calving bull, 2-3 weeks ahead of the main calving herd. In order to achieve this it is important that replacement heifers are chosen as calves born in the first half of the calving period and that they reach a target mating weight by 14 – 15 months of age. Replacement heifers should be checked before mating to identify non-breeders and unplanned pregnancies. In some herds synchronisation of heifers (+/- artificial insemination) may also be beneficial.
Biosecurity and infectious disease control are essential elements in achieving a compact calving pattern. Without effective biosecurity measures in place the infectious disease status of the herd is uncontrolled. Information on the main infectious diseases of concern to the beef herd are available in separate farm factsheets also available on this website.
If you would like to review any aspect of the compact calving pattern or to make a plan for improved beef suckler herd efficiency, please contact us at the surgery on 01786 430387, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org