By improving suckler herd fertility, farmers can achieve clear financial gains, says Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) specialist services manager Iain Riddell.
Speaking at this year’s Beef Expo, Mr Riddell said there was “real scope for improvement” in suckler herd fertility and opting for a tighter calving period can allow more choice when breeding replacements.
“I think fertility and health are the two main determents of suckler herd profitability – there’s big money here and big potential for improvement – and the measures taken to compact calving and improve weaning percentage are definitely worth it,” he said.
“Herd fertility involves more than just getting cows in calf; a true message of fertility is getting cows in calf in a tight calving period. The message I keep giving to people is to try and get more calves born early in the calving, because the more you can get in the first three weeks of calving, the more choice you have.”
Mr Riddell and his colleague George Caldow have recently developed a new tool – Fertbench – for beef farmers, allowing them to input herd data and compare their results with others while identifying areas for improvement.
Mr Riddell explained: “It has been difficult to know how to improve suckler herds because the information has not been available, so we have devised a program that I believe is the first service of its type for beef farmers.
“It sets consistent targets and standards for the whole herd – I believe if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it – and helps give farmers that wee push by identifying where they can do things better.”
The Fertbench program has been tested by SAC consultants and is already in use in over 56 farms across Scotland and north Wales.
Mr Riddell said results for 2010 spring calving show the average farm rearing 88.5 calves per 100 cows/heifers to bull against a target of 94%, with the top performers rearing 100% and those at the bottom end of the scale rearing 73%.
“Increasing the number of calves reared from 88% to 94% can improve margins by £32 a cow, or £3,200 annually for a 100-cow herd. Therefore, by tightening the calving period and adding an extra 20kg to average calf weight reared, you can increase this by a further £45 a cow,” he added.
Iain Riddell spoke to Farmers Weekly about the importance of suckler herd fertility and compact calving: