Breeders advised to lift fertility to lower costs

Ever wondered what poor fertility could be costing your suckler herd?

Latest advice from EBLEX suggests that for an average 100-cow herd, it could be costing as much as £2300 a year.

Improving herd fertility will significantly boost average suckled calf weights at weaning, improve feed and labour efficiency and cut herd replacements costs, says MLC’s Liz Genever.

“A compact calving period increases average weaned calf weight, reduces overall calf feeding requirements and simplifies the rearing system.”

Some 75% of cows currently hold to first service in the best recorded herds, with 98% calving within a nine-week period.

“In contrast the 40% first service pregnancy rate of the worst fertility herds means a 24-week calving period.”

With a birth weight of 45kg and 1.0kg daily weight gain, Miss Genever says this represents an average weaning weight difference of £23kg – worth 23/head at a sale price of £1/kg.

“Ideally, producers should be aiming for first breeding cycle pregnancy rates of at least 65% to calve more than 90% of the herd within a 10-week period.”

To help achieve this, she advises suckler producers to establish a 10-year breeding plan to improve performance output.

“Using estimated breeding values to select superior cows for breeding heifer replacements and using appropriate bulls with good EBVs will balance performance and calving traits required for the herd.

And where suckler herds are concerned, sufficient levels of crossbreeding should be maintained to take advantage of hybrid vigour.”

Herd health status should also be closely monitored, adds Miss Genever.

“Newly purchased stock should be quarantined for at least four weeks, with specific tests and vaccinations given accordingly.

And with 40% of the UK’s stock bulls showing sub-fertility problems, new bulls should be fertility checked by a vet prior to the breeding season.”

Northumberland-based suckler producer Charles Armstrong agrees that breeding herd health status is vital for maximising calf returns.

His 400-cow suckler herd are blood sampled every year for copper and selenium status, as well as for appropriate vaccination regimes.

“Whether you’re concentrating on breeding the best heifer replacements or spending £1000 a head buying them in, they have to be able to calve in that required 12-week calving period.

In this herd, heifers and cows don’t get a second chance.”

And bull power is equally necessary, adds Mr Armstrong.

“Even though we run our cows in groups of 100 with three bulls, pre-checking fertility before the breeding season is important.”

MLC’s Mary Browne says that when establishing a breeding plan, bulling weight of maiden heifers should also be considered.

“Ideally, they should be bulled at 65% of their mature weight, managing them to reach 85% at the start of the next breeding season and 95% the third season.

“Calving heifers three weeks ahead of the main herd to give them greater attention when calving and longer to recover before breeding again, will also help.”

Throughout the breeding plan, Dr Browne says accurate individual cow records must be maintained to monitor key performance standards, whereby cows that keep returning or fail to produce and rear a good calf every 365 days should be culled.