The breeding season is underway on early spring-calving suckler farms, and will begin in the coming few weeks on herds that calve later in the season.
Suitable breeding strategies will differ on suckler farms depending on factors such as the number of cows in the herd, and if the farmer works part time or not. However, either artificial insemination (AI), a stockbull, or a combination of both will be used.
There is no ‘right time’ to calve suckler cows. Factors such as off-farm work (if working off farm), shed space, land type and farm layout are all aspects of an enterprise that differentiate calving dates.
While the preferred calving date will differ on suckler farms depending on the variable factors, two things that should be addressed on all suckler farms is the length of the calving season and reducing each cow’s calving interval.
All suckler farmers should be working towards the goal of one cow producing one good weanling every one year, and getting replacement heifers calving down at as close to 24-months-of-age as possible.
Where fragmented ground is being farmed, getting suckler cows that are in heat to a yard or handling facility for AI can be time consuming.
Every missed heat increases a cow’s calving interval, prolongs the calving season and reduces the herd’s overall profitability, so this added time is less than ideal.
While there are heat-detection technologies available for suckler herds, using solely AI during the breeding season can result in missed heats – especially where the farmer may be working part-time and only gets to see stock in the evenings or before work.
The factors mentioned above, as well as a number of others, can result in a prolonged calving period and so, many suckler farmers have a preference for using a stockbull to get cows back in calf.
Despite this, some farmers prefer not to keep a stockbull as they may feel their herd-size is too small or may have safety concerns with keeping a bull. Where this is the case, and spotting heats is an issue on the farm, heat-detection technologies may prove very helpful.
There are a number of benefits to reducing the time from when the first cow calves to when the last cow calves on suckler farms.
A compact calving season results in a batch of calves that are of similar ages and weights and helps the farmer to manage their herd as a group when it comes to carrying out husbandry tasks, i.e. vaccinating, dosing and weaning.
Cull-cow prices are at record highs this year and this offers suckler farmers a good opportunity to replace non-performing, troublesome cows, with quality maiden heifers suitable for breeding.
Also, with the strong cow price and good calves fetching impressive prices at calf sales, it could be worth considering replacing late calvers with heifers that will tie-in better with your calving pattern.
Some farmers will be reluctant to make changes to their system, but it is worth remembering that current markets offer a good opportunity to make necessary ‘substitutions’ in an effort to help improve your herd’s overall profitability, productivity and efficiency.