John McAloon MVDr MRCVS
Below are the top five complaints of our beef suckler clients over the past 12 months – do they seem familiar? I will now try to link all of the below issues into a single resolution – early scanning!
As a routine, on our dairy units we scan cows from 30 days post service ensuring costly days open do not mount up and result in a stale herd. Is fertility in a suckler herd any different?
A tight, well managed calving block is essential to financial efficiency. Many factors affect conception rates, but scanning is a sure way to investigate how the herd has performed in the early fertility block, before it is too late. If problems are detected at this early stage, further investigation and discussion may save the block and the essential cash crop of calves due to arrive the following year. Scanning mid-winter is too late and buys you little information apart from PD positive or negative. Empty cows at this time have already cost you money by consuming large quantities of forage/hard feeds.
A lot of farms are happy to run extended calving blocks and leave the bulls in with the cows/heifers all summer to be sure all are back in calf. This ends up dragging out future blocks and breeding more issues than you need. A tight 9-12 week block will reward you, any cows that fall outside that calving block must be carefully considered before they are re-bred.
At present the national herd achieves an 88% calving down rate – 88 calves born per 100 cows/heifers put to the bull. Target for a financially viable suckler herd would be >95% – how do you compare?
On from there, we would expect a weaning rate of >94%, which leaves little room for calf losses from birth to weaning.
A healthy fertile bull should be more than able to manage mating >90% of a healthy 50cow/heifer group in a 9 week period. Take that out to 12 weeks and you should expect pregnancies in >95%, with >60% calving within the first 3 weeks – “front loading”. Front loading is key to maintaining future blocks, especially with heifers.
Many herds also calve heifers in at 3 years of age to ensure they are well grown. Financially it is essential to aim for 2 years at first calving. Ensure good calf health and heifer growth rates to attain service weights, service at 15 months or 60% mature cow body weight, managing these heifers carefully so that they calve down at 85% of mature cow weight. With care over the following year, they will mature nicely and you will have an extra calf per cow lifetime.
So are the rewards there for sticking to a 12 week block? I hope you agree – yes. It is certainly financially viable but admittedly difficult to maintain. The first is to sit down and plan what system you want to operate, sort bulls in/out dates and ensure health, nutrition and early scanning are there to support the process. Early scanning will help to check you are on track.
How to achieve these testing targets?
1. Bull fertility: 20% of bulls struggle with varying degrees of subfertility. Do not leave it to chance, get him tested – enquire about our bull sampling service. Ensure BCS, feet, eyes and mouth are all sound. Lastly, if the semen is there but libido or mounting ability are not, then it is not going to happen – watch quietly and assess bulls mating ability.
2. Healthy cows/heifers: Too many herds accept slipping blocks and this is often due to infectious disease and/ or BSC. Know your infectious disease status and manage it carefully with biosecurity protocols. BVD for example is costly in its effects on cow fertility, calf health and screening/removal – protect your valuable cattle with good practice.
3. Discipline and an active health plan: Ask the vets at Molecare about your herd health. We can now offer you a Beef Check offer, which includes us blood screening your herd for the most common infectious diseases seen on farm, such as BVD, IBR and Lepto. We blood 6-10 cows from your herd and the lab fees are free of charge to the farmer. We can also check for Johne’s disease. This is a very useful tool to see what level of disease is on your farm. A negative result can highlight the importance of maintaining strict biosecurity on your farm to prevent these diseases coming onto your farm from brought in cattle.
How will hitting targets benefit you?
1. Tight calving block: Tight well managed blocks give cows and especially heifers good time to recover and re-breed. Then concentrate work effort and allow for organised health and replacement planning.
2. Improved calf health: With condensed calf blocks there is less chance for pathogen build up. There is less age mixing and as a result less scour and pneumonia potential.
3. Reduced feed wastage: With recent unpredictable forage crops, picking out empty cows/heifers will allow for better forage and feed management and less overstocking through winter housing.
4. Increased weaner weights and even batches: By calving >60% of your herd in the first 3 week block, you end up with excellent weaning weights and also well grown heifer calves to select replacements from management, feeding and treatments of even groups is then much easier over the following year.
5. Cow and bull health and BSC management: Keeping it tight and organised gives you the opportunity to easily manage feet, bull fertility checks and most importantly BSC. Over fat cows and bulls will not perform well – assessment and manipulation is possible if all cows are calving within 12 weeks of one another.
A Final Note
We at Molecare Farm Vets endeavour to match the needs of every unit and to that end have varied services to suit you. Please contact Molecare vets and enquire.
Our aim is to make you happy and that hopefully comes with healthy stock.