27 September 1996

Dont sacrifice fertility for sake of feed savings

Dont cut down on autumn feed if you want to maintain suckler fertility.

Emma Penny reports

AUTUMN calving suckler producers shouldnt be tempted to cut back on autumn feeding to save money if they want to ensure good fertility.

Thats the message from Perth-based Signet consultant Alan Mathieson, who warns producers that they reduce rations at their peril. "Cows must be in good condition, and on a rising plane of nutrition when they go to the bull."

Feed is the biggest cost for a suckler herd, and in the current uncertainty, producers may be tempted to reduce rations to save money. But to ensure good fertility, adequate feeding is crucial, says Mr Mathieson.

"The latest Signet survey of upland suckler herds revealed that infertility averaged 8%, which is quite high, but for some producers it is a lot more."

In a herd where the conception rate is 60% – a good performance – exactly 54% of cows should calve during the first month. Where the conception rate falls to 40%, only 30% of the herd will calve during the first month, increasing the calving interval greatly, he says.

"Cow condition at bulling is the major influence on fertility. Well managed summer grazing is the cheapest and best way to ensure your cows are at condition score 2.5 – or a maximum of 3."

But the period between calving and bulling is often difficult to manage. Calves currently for sale from autumn calving herds should have been grazing the best grass, with the cows second in priority. In addition, fulfilling milk demands requires a high energy input, and first calvers may be struggling to maintain condition.

"Ensuring cows are on a rising plane of nutrition means concentrates may be necessary. Level of concentrate feeding depends on how far they are from being in the right condition, but typically producers are feeding 30kg silage and 2kg concentrate a head.

"First calvers will need more, and should be fed separately to reduce competition and ensure they are receiving enough. Ideally, they want to be condition score 3 at bulling to ensure good fertility."

The exact level of feeding should be determined after analysing the nutrient contents of hay and silage. This can go at least some way to reducing dependence on more expensive concentrates.

"Match rations with feed availability, but remember that this is the most critical period for suckler cows, and it will pay to get feeding right. &#42


&#8226 Ensure cows are condition score 2.5, first calvers score 3.

&#8226 Avoid stress – handle animals quietly.

&#8226 Check continually to see which animals are in heat.

&#8226 Ensure first calvers have adequate feed, feed separately to reduce competition from mature cows.


COWS CHECKLIST

To ensure good autumn fertility, cows must be in good condition when bulled.