12 October 2001


REPLACEMENT suckler cows have become poorer performers than older cows in the herd with lower fertility and higher feed requirements.

This prompted Richard Fuller of the Beef Improvement Group to reassess his suckler cow replacement strategy. "In particular, we questioned the value of dairy beef animals for suckler cow replacements.

"The beef industry is using beef animals from dairy herds, containing Holstein-Friesian genetics, to produce beef. The problem is the dairy breed is short lived, with cows averaging four lactations and relatively infertile.

"This has led to higher and higher muscled bulls being used to put flesh back on dairy beef calves. Instead, suckler cows should be improved."

The ideal suckler cow progeny is medium sized, with low maintenance costs, a tight calving interval and reaches slaughter weight within the desired time. It is also useful for animals to calve at 24 months instead of 36 months, to avoid losing another years production.

Mr Fuller attempted to produce his own replacements by cross-breeding. But milking ability started to drop with three-quarter pure Limousin suckler cows. "This was a real concern and calving ease was becoming more important with lower labour inputs on farms."

Due to the lack of UK data for maternal traits, he looked towards the US. The US Department of Agriculture has developed a composite breed on its Nebraska-based research centre. It was bred by mixing breed types to compliment their strengths, such as better milk production by Hereford cattle.

The resulting Marc II breed is a composite offering 17% more efficiency than any of the purebreds. This is due to increased slaughter weights, cow longevity, better fertility and lower maintenance costs.

He was so impressed with the breed that he imported embryos and has found animals to be docile, uniform and hardy enough to be wintered outdoors.

Mr Fullar believes breed societies cannot solve the problem of suckler cow supply on their own and must co-operate within cross-breeding programmes. &#42

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