Advice at breeding season for autumn-calving sucklers

The average suckler herd size is under 20 cows.
The average suckler herd size is under 20 cows.

Matt O'Sullivan

Approximately 20 per cent of Irish suckler herds operate completely on an autumn calving system, with the remaining 80pc operating a spring calving system or a combination of both.

There are a variety of reasons why some farms opt for an autumn calving system. These include land base, labour availability, off-farm employment, mixed enterprises, and so on.

Whatever the reason, management of the breeding season in these systems, like all systems, is extremely important.

Breeding season is well underway on these farms at this stage.

On many of these farms, the breeding season starts outdoors and, depending on the calving start date, the breeding season will finish indoors.

This can lead to some issues with heat detection, as some cows may not show signs of heat, as well when they are housed, particularly when on slats.

Cows that are allowed access to feeding yards or a straw-bedded area will show increased heat activity.

The other issue when breeding indoors is that of injuries to both cows and bulls particularly on slats.

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Some farmers do not have any problems while others have had.

If a solid floor area with straw bedding was an option indoors, it could be considered to reduce the chances of injury from slips and falls.

Like any herd, we want to achieve a high conception rate.

To maximise rates, farmers should pay close attention to cow nutrition and body condition up to and during the breeding season.

The target condition for these autumn-calving cows at breeding time should be between 2.75 and 3.0.

A suckler cow needs enough energy to produce sufficient milk of good quality to feed the calf, while also maintaining her own condition. 

Any remaining energy will be required for her to go back in calf. Apart from supplying energy any concentrates fed to the cow, rearing a calf will also supply a source of minerals required to improve reproductive function.

If no concentrate is being fed then these cows should be supplemented with minerals, which can be done in a number of ways such as powders on the silage, minerals blocks and buckets and boluses.

On the majority of farms, autumn-calving cows indoors will be receiving some concentrates post-calving up until the cows are back in calf.

The amount of concentrate will also be dependent on the silage quality they are eating.

As a guide, these cows should be receiving between 1.5 and 2.5 kilogrammes of a 16 per cent ration or nut depending on their condition up until cows are back in calf, and calves will have access to some creep, which will reduce the demand on the cow.

First-calvers should be getting preferential treatment.

Cows need to be in a positive energy balance in order to increase the likelihood of a successful conception.

Cows in negative energy show poorer signs of heat, have shorter heats and don't go in calf as easy.

Good heat detection is an important element of good fertility in any herd, and this goes for autumn calvers also where breeding takes place indoors.

Keep a record of any heats you see in the weeks before you commence breeding, regardless of whether or not you are using AI or a stock bull. This will allow you to identify cows not cycling.

The use of heat detection aids such as tail paint and scratch pads are very useful.

Identifying cows that are not bulling will allow you to do something about it.

These cows can be scanned to identify any issues they may have, such as uterine infections or damage from a previous calving which may have gone unnoticed.

By identifying these cows early, it will mean that they have a greater chance of staying in the herd and not being culled at a later stage due to not going back in calf.

This also has an impact on the individual cow's fertility records and that of any of her offspring, and subsequently will feed back into their star ratings.

Don't forget the uutumn calvers in your dosing plan.

Get animals dosed as soon as it is appropriate to do so, and make sure that you use the products that are most effective for the target parasites. 

There is little point in getting your feeding strategy right if your cows are losing condition due to a significant parasite burden.

ADVANCE payments for the organic farming scheme commenced last Friday (December 7), with payments scheduled throughout December.

It is thought that €5million will be issued to 1,100 farmers this month.

The scheme comes under Ireland's Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.

Figures show that more than 70,000 hectares are under organic production as a result of the scheme, an increase of almost 50 per cent from the programme's start in 2014.

"I am delighted that we have met our commitment to commence these payments in December and at a rate far in excess of last year," Minister Doyle said. "The scheme is one of our key drivers in increasing Irish organic output which will help us exploit the vast market opportunities internationally for this product".

Additional investment items will also now be eligible for grant-aid under the Organic Capital Investment Scheme.

It is part of the new Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Schemes (TAMS) and supports on-farm capital investment for organic farms.

Farmers will be able to apply for these new investments under the next tranche of the TAMS scheme.

Matt O'Sullivan is a Teagasc Advisor


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