Suckler herds could produce an average 10% more calves each year from the same number of cows, according to recent research by EBLEX.

And, even greater productivity gains could be made by improving heifer rearing, cow longevity and fertility management.

Analysis of data for all pure-bred and beef cross cows in England between 2004 and 2008, show an average calving interval of 413 days, says EBLEX beef scientist Mary Vickers.

“Reducing this interval to the ideal 365 days, would mean an average extra 13 calves/100 cows a year.”

Data also shows, an average calving age at first calving of over 33 months with an average lifetime production of 4.5 calves/cow.

“There is clearly considerable potential to improve output and reduce costs both by calving heifers at a younger age and by increasing the productive life of cows,” she says.

With young cows up to six years old showing significantly lower average intervals between each live calf than older cows, substantial fertility improvements could be made, with reductions in replacement rearing costs, by calving heifers nearer to 24 months.

“Interestingly, analysis also shows a cow’s fertility only begins to significantly decline after 10 years of age, but the average age of death is about eight years.

“This emphasises the importance of improving breeding and management to promote longevity and reduce the lifetime cost/calf produced.”

A more compact calving interval will also increase the average weight of weaned calf/cow, reduce feed requirements and simplify the rearing system.