The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) has launched a major new suckler beef research project involving 1000 breeding cattle on 12 farms across Northern Ireland.

The project will evaluate the ability of novel breeding methods to improve the output from suckler herds. Funding is being provided by the Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (DARD) through a Research Challenge Fund grant, and AgriSearch in association with AI Services, Genus ABS and Zoetis.

This project follows on from a previous pilot study funded by AgriSearch, which evaluated the role of oestrus synchronisation and the use of artificial insemination (AI) in meeting breeding targets for suckler herds.

The new project aims to develop practical breeding strategies to enable suckler herds to calve heifers down at 24 months, with a subsequent calving interval of 365 days.  This compares with the current industry average of first calving at 31 months and a subsequent calving interval of 399 days.

The project will seek to devise and embed alternative management protocols for oestrus synchronisation and artificial insemination with high genetic merit sires in order to significantly improve the output from suckler herds.

The new study will involve close co-operation between AFBI researchers, co-researcher farmers and their veterinary surgeons and the industry partners.  In addition to AFBI’s suckler herd, research will be undertaken on 12 commercial beef farms across Northern Ireland involving approximately 1000 cows/heifers.

The main objectives are:

1)  Establish anoestrus rates in beef heifers and cows

The age at which beef heifers are first bred in Northern Ireland is often down to farmer choice, but the subsequent reappearance rate of approximately 399 days is either due to cows being anoestrus, cows not being bred early enough or cows not conceiving to the first service.  In this study, veterinary surgeons will undertake a pre-breeding check of heifers and cows on all farms to establish their suitability for breeding.  This will identify heifers not suitable for breeding and cows which are anoestrus.

2)  Produce best practice guidelines for synchronisation and AI

Best-practice guidelines for synchronising beef cows and heifers will be developed for a range of farming systems applicable to Northern Ireland beef farms.

3 ) Evaluate the success of sexed semen within the beef herd

The use of both female and male sexed semen will be evaluated in conjunction with a synchronisation protocol within the AFBI suckler herd.  Based on the results during 2015 this approach may be evaluated on farm during 2016.