Farm Ireland

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Why this 100-cow suckler cow herd is going all AI

Picture: Teagasc
Picture: Teagasc

Eoghan MacConnell

Teagasc’s Newford demonstration farm has sold its two stock bulls and is going all AI this year following the successes of 2017, Farm Manager Matthew Murphy revealed at the Teagasc National Beef conference in Tullamore.

He outlined his top tips for success with his 100-cow suckler herd, all first cross Angus and Hereford from the dairy herd. In 2017 Newford used AI with stock bulls to mop up. The combination resulted in a 94pc in calf rate, but Matthew couldn’t justified the use of two stock bulls who produced just 11 of the calves at the farm in Athenry, Co Galway.

Matthew took on all of the AI himself this year. First cross Angus and Hereford cows from dairy were used because they are docile, maternal and have no problem producing milk. The calves are all brought to finishing on the farm and careful thought went into sire selection.

In order to condition the cows before breeding, Matthew selected 22 of the thinner cows who were given concentrated feeding of in November.

They were fed 2kg of soya hulls until the end of December in order to improve their body score to between three and three and a half which helped them come into heat more quickly.

Newford’s sire selection doesn’t go by breed but by a criteria which can be selected on the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) list.

Key for Newford was a 5 Star Terminal, over 80pc reliability, greater than 30kg carcass weight, calving difficulty below 7pc for mature cows and straw costing less than €15.

The cows went to grass full-time in mid March with breeding beginning on April 24. AI was used for six weeks up to June 2, when two stock bulls-Simmental and Limousin with a combined value of €7,500 - were let in for four weeks.

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Matthew said heat detection is key to a successful outcome for AI. He used two techniques, tail paint and two vasectomised Fresian bulls- purchased for €850 each. These bulls wear a chin ball harness paint strap which marks the cows rump.

The cows, which are split in two groups, are checked five times a day with cows being taken in the morning for AI. After the six weeks the two vasectomies bulls were fed up and sold off. The overall cost to the farm was €34 per bull.

The method saw 93 of 99 cows bred with 64 cows held to first service, 18 to second service and 11 cows to stock bull. In total 6pc of the cows failed to breed and these cows will be culled.

Matthew was asked about fixed time synchronisation. He said while it works for some farmers, research indicates conception rates of 50pc, the method can also be impacted by poor weather conditions. “The figures speak for themselves,” he said. “We are actually getting better results doing it this way and I have no intention of changing,” he added.

On September 11, the 2017 bull calves average weight was 303kgs at an average of six and a half months old. Their Average Daily Gain(ADG) was 1.3kg per day. The 2017 heifer calves have an average weight of 276kgs with an ADG of 1.23kg per day.

An AI course costs around €450 and the flask costs €750 and it will do for a number of years. More information on the Newford herd is available at

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