Sunday 25 September 2016

Suckler sector faces massive challenges to hit beef targets

Martin Ryan

Published 03/05/2016 | 02:30

Less than one in four beef calves are born to A1 sires.
Less than one in four beef calves are born to A1 sires.

Thousands of suckler farmers will have to change their breeding management practices to hit the targets set out by the Beef Data and Genomics Programme and Food Wise 2025.

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With less than one in four beef calves being born to AI sires - and the average suckler herd calving interval running six weeks over target - the scale of the challenge facing the sector has been identified by Teagasc experts in a Department of Agriculture funded beef cow fertility programme.

Mervyn Parr from Teagasc Grange told farmers at the Irish Grassland Association Beef Conference in Limerick that "improving reproductive efficiency will be one of the key factors in achieving the productive and economic targets set out for the beef industry".

He said low usage of AI within the suckler herd, with just 23pc of beef calves registered in 2015 to an AI sire, reflected the difficulty and labour needed for heat detection and assembly of cows with many fragmented and part-time farms.

"Despite this it is well acknowledged that AI allows access to genetically proven sires for terminal, maternal, and ease of calving traits, facilitating greater genetic progress and ease of management," he said.

"Unlike dairy farmers, too many beef farmers have no defined policy for producing quality female replacements."

He said synchronisation can offer a low labour method.

Research findings from trials carried out at Teagasc Grange on synchronisation in over 2,000 suckler cows found that 50-55pc of the cows on the trial were in calf after one AI service following synchronisation.

The cost of synchronisation ranged from €47-62/cow - around €25 per cow treated plus vet fees and AI - but it worked out similar to the cost of natural mating from a stock bull.

He said farmers have a long way to go to meet targets with the majority of suckler cows calving every 407 days, which is six weeks beyond the target, and only eight in 10 cows producing a calf per year.

The study has included blood testing 5,554 cows from 155 spring calving suckler herds for infectious diseases including BVD, Lepto, IBR and Neosporosis during 2014 and 2015.

The results show that the majority of unvaccinated herds tested positive for these key infectious diseases with prevelance of antibodies in 71% of herds for Lepto,

78% of herds for BVD, 44% of herds for IBR and

5% of herds showed signs of a Neosporosis infection.

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