Suckler cow management: Getting autumn-calvers back in calf

Some 20% of Irish suckler cow farms operate an autumn-calving system. Therefore, the breeding season for autumn-calving suckler cows is currently underway on many farms across the country.

However, this can be a little trickier than breeding in spring-calving herds. The biggest problem is anoestrous –  the cow’s lack of ability to show signs of heat.

While the majority of autumn-calving herds will use a stock bull when cows are outdoors, many farmers turn to AI as the animals are housed for the winter period.

Like breeding in the spring-calving herd, high conception rates are achieved on the back of high heat-detection rates. Some cows will not express heat as well when housed indoors. Cows that are allowed access to a yard or a straw-bedded area will show increased heat activity.

Heat detection aids, such as tail painting, are very important in picking up cows in heat. Cows should be checked on multiple occasions throughout the day and cows showing heat should be recorded.

To maximise conception rates, farmers should pay close attention to cow nutrition and body condition score (BCS) during the breeding season.

Source: Teagasc

According to Teagasc, cows in good condition on good-quality grass silage (72% DMD) should be given 1.8kg of concentrates per day prior to mating. This can be reduced to 0-0.5kg/day post-mating.

However, silage made during the summer of 2017 may be of poorer quality in some regions of Ireland; farmers should increase concentrates accordingly.

Where cows are in poor condition, Teagasc says, concentrate levels will have to be maintained following mating. Feeding should continue at this level for approximately 30 days after the end of the breeding season.

The quantity of concentrates offered to cows can also be adjusted post-mating depending on silage quality.

autumn calving
Source: Teagasc

While some farmers have never had any problem with the stock bull serving cows on slats, other farmers have had some problems.

Breeding indoors can be very dangerous. It is not uncommon to see both bulls and cows slipping on slats and becoming lame. Younger bulls are especially at risk as they may have been born and bred in sheds with solid, bedded floors.

Allowing the stock bull to become familiar with slats can reduce the risk of injury. Rubbers slats can increase grip for both the bull and cow when mounting is taking place.

The bull should also be in good body condition, well-rested and free from injury. Lameness will reduce the mobility of the bull and his ability to serve cows. Keeping a close eye on the bull when mounting cows allows the farmer to monitor the situation.