Calving at two years ‘critical to suckler success’

Calving heifers down at 24 months makes commercial sense and is critical to suckler farming success, Agricultural Consultant Ian Kenny has said.

At a time of year when many autumn-calving suckler farmers will be looking towards the breeding season, Kenny is exasperated when he talks about the number of suckler farmers that still refuse to adopt best practice.

Speaking to Agriland, he said that many farmers continue to wait too long before breeding or inseminating their replacement heifers.

This is backed up by figures from the ICBF, which shows the the average suckler farm only calves down 20% of the heifers before 26 month of age, while the top 15% of farms have not broken the 50% barrier over the past five years.

I would say that there is only a maximum of 7.5% of farmers willing to meet the 24 month target.

Around Kenny’s local area in the midlands, he said that the number is probably lower, as many farmers do not consider putting heifers to the bull until they have passed two years of age.

He also said that a lot of suckler farmers should look to their dairy counterparts, who largely breed heifers at 15 months of age.

Irish heifers, heifer prices


Targets to Consider

In order to give birth at 24 months, heifers must have been bred at approximately 15 months of age.

Teagasc research shows that heifers will be cycling regularly by the time they reach 60% of their mature body weight.

It recommends that heifers should be targeted to calve down at 24 months of age at 80% of their mature body weight – this can be achieved under good management.

If bred at 60% of mature body weight at 15 months of age, heifers will calve down at 80% of mature body weight if achieving steady, moderate growth rates throughout pregnancy.

Teagasc advises that it is crucial not to let disease impede growth at housing, noting in particular that the heifers should be treated for parasites.

The breeding season for heifers should be no longer than eight weeks, according to Teagasc, which allows plenty of time for two heats to be detected.

This compacted breeding season will lead to a shortened calving season and easier management long term.


Bull choices

Meanwhile, Kenny believes that using an easy calving bull is a good way to ensure that stress on the heifer is minimised, while also helping to deliver a healthy calf.

He says that some of the resistance around calving at 24 months comes from the idea of small calves, but he says that having a small calf and a cow after two years is more beneficial than having one big heifer.

Heifers can be mated through natural service or AI depending on farmer preference, but it is recommended to use a bull that is proven to be easy calving.


Considering that calving heifers down at 24 months has a proven economic benefits, Kenny said he can’t understand the resistance to the practice among suckler farmers.

He said that the costs are plain to see if you compare the feed costs of a 24-26 month old maiden heifer to that of a two-year-old entering first lactation.