Suckler herd fertility, a slow burner

Last week the Irish Cattle Breeding Association (ICBF) released some interesting statistics regarding the Irish suckler herd. The statistics show that while some progress has been made in recent years in terms fertility more work needs to be done.

Speaking to AgriLand this afternoon, Chris Daly of the ICBF said: “While overall the calving interval is starting to come down a bit. It’s still a month above where it should be.”

Its statistics show that the average calving interval has decreased to 395 days, which represents an almost two-week improvement on the high of 407 days in 2011.

However Daly noted: “There still is a huge difference between the national average and the top 15 per cent of herds. The data shows that the average suckler cow in Ireland is still only calving once every 13 months.”

Other highlights from the ICBF statistics show that 10 per cent of all suckler females that had previously calved, did not have a calf in this period. This compares to zero per cent on the top 15 per cent of herds. Also the average Irish herd only produced 83 calves per 100 cows last year. This compares to 100 calves per 100 cows on from the top 15 per cent of herds.

According to Daly, there is a range of reasons for this including by cow type, late heat detection, poor culling decisions and framers holding on to poor performing cows among more.

He stressed that on farms where aggressive culling policies are in place “the cream comes to the top and these farmers get a set of really high performing cows”.

Calving spread is also identified in the statistics a big issue. Daly commented: “Only three per cent of herds calve over three months of the year. This is a problem that tends to persist. Lads are too happy to be calving all year round.”

He continued: “As herd size increases, calving interval decreases which means that bigger herds are much more efficient when it comes to reproduction. Overly spread out calving leads to increased labour, more groups of cattle and lack of uniformity of stock.”

According to the ICBF expert, next year’s figures could make for interesting reading. He said: “Because of the bad spring last year the caving interval could go up as farmers struggled to get cows back in calf.”

However he also observed: “It could also have a positive impact with farmers possibly being more aggressive in their culling. Farmers would not have been able to afford to keep cows that were not in calf. It could be the case were the worst of the cows could have been gotten rid off.”

The full ICBF statistics are available here.

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