There is clear evidence of a decline in both the productive and reproductive efficiency of Irish beef cows, according to Teagasc research scientist Dr Mervyn Parr.

Last year saw the Grange-based beef specialist and his colleague David Kenny commence a research trial designed to identify those ways by which reproductive efficiency levels in suckler cows can be improved.

A core objective of the work is to increase the use of AI within the Irish beef sector.

“The average calving interval for the Irish suckler herd in 2014 was 412 days, and less than 25% of cows produce a calf every 365 days,” said Parr.

“Another key issue affecting reproductive efficiency is the age at first calving in heifers, the target for which is 24 months. Currently, less than 20% of Irish beef heifers achieve this target.”

As part of last year’s trial a total of 1,400 cows were synchronised across 50 herds (spring and autumn calving) in 2014 and fixed time AI was conducted.

“Scanning results across three groups have confirmed pregnancy rates of 70%, 60% and 50%,” said Parr.

“The work was undertaken with cows only. All animals initially ear marked were scanned prior to the beginning of the work. Any found to be dirty inside were excluded from the trial. We are investigating the reasons why there was a spread in conception rates. But certainly the 70% figure is extremely encouraging. This specific trial will be repeated in 2015.

“Our aim is to encourage the greater use of artificial insemination within the sucker sector. And, at this point in time, the use of fixed time AI seems the most obvious way of achieving this objective. Down the track we may assess some of the heat detection technologies that are used within the dairy industry.”

The work carried out by Parr and Kenny will also look at the herd health issues, and in particular the impact of infectious diseases such as BVD, IBR, Neospora canium and Leptospirosis, on suckler cow fertility. The study, in its entirety, will be replicated over two years (2014 and 2015) and will incorporate in the region of 200 herds and 4,000 cows.