Maximise suckler production with good management

Increasing calf numbers by 10% from the same number of cows is possible with careful heifer rearing and fertility management, recent figures have shown.

With an average calving interval of 413 days, 33 months for age at first calving and an average lifetime production of only 4.6 calves according to BCMS data analysed by EBLEX, attention to critical periods in the cow’s life could tighten figures significantly, says independent beef consultant, David Hendy.

“It’s astonishing management of certain periods in a cow’s life are missed. Take the dry period; often cows are put out to grass and left without consideration for their dietary needs and the extent calving a fat cow can have on future production.”

Mr Hendy says for dry cows the energy density of the ration needs to be between 65-75mj/kg/dm.

“If the energy density isn’t right and cows calve down fat, difficulties are inevitable, meaning cows will then struggle to get back in calf and it can also have knock-on effects on the calf,” he says.

Body condition scoring can help producers stay on track with feeding, and if cows are one BCS over/under which is the equivalent of putting on or loosing 0.2kg/day, the energy requirement should be altered by 7-8mj/kg/dm, says Mr Hendy.

“Cows should be about 2.5-3 BCS when put to the bull. By 15 months if heifers have been managed correctly they should be at 70-80% of their adult bodyweight ready for bulling, meaning there is no reason why heifers can’t be calving down at two years old,” he says.

But putting heifers to an easy calving bull is just as important to prevent difficult calvings, according to Steve Borsberry of 608 Vet Group, Solihull. “Bad calvings can damage the reproductive tracts and the costs associated with reduced cow and calf production is huge,” he says.

“Cross breeding for hybrid vigour also limits extremes in size and at the end of the day you want a live calf out of a healthy cow,” says Mr Borsberry.

But even when nutrition and genetics are correct, the one thing often forgotten is the bull, says David Black, Paragon Vet Group, Carlisle. “The bull is essentially half your herd, so ensure he is wormed, vaccinated and treated for lameness alongside the rest of the herd.

“But, more importantly, fertility tests should be carried a minimum of one month before he goes out with cows. Failure to do this could mean you are playing fertility catch up for the rest of the season.”

Ultimately the key statistic to consider in terms of suckler herd production is the weight of calf weaned from every cow that goes to the bull, says Mr Black. “So getting nutrition, fertility and health working together will maximise production.”

Mr Hendy also stresses the effect disease can have on production and particularly fertility. “The healthier the herd the better the return. Diseases such as BVD and listeria can affect fertility and extend the calving interval and thus number of calves born over a lifetime. This is why a herd health plan drawn up with the farm’s vet is necessary,” he says.