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Saturday 24 February 2018

Culling - A key element of a profitable suckler herd

Sucklers well stocked up on the Cass farm, Abbeyleix, Co Laois. Picture: Alf Harvey/HRPhoto.ie
Sucklers well stocked up on the Cass farm, Abbeyleix, Co Laois. Picture: Alf Harvey/HRPhoto.ie
Suckler cows will protect their calf at any time of year.

John Kilboyle, Teagasc Advisor

As the days are getting shorter and night starts to close in, the thought of preparing winter housing is on most farmers' minds.

While most of the work goes into cleaning, tidying and repairs on farm, little time is often spent on deciding which stock will be kept on your farm over the winter.

With a large proportion of the cost of keeping the suckler cow incurred over the four to five month winter period every cow on your farm needs to be earning their keep. Does every cow on your farm deserve to be kept over the winter?

One of the key aspects of running an efficient suckler herd is to have a clear breeding programme on farm. Having a clearly defined calving period, with the objective of targeting a 365 day calving interval, 12 week calving season and limiting calf mortality rate to <2.5% at birth and < 2.5% at 28 days are very important in optimising farm output and the overall profitability of your suckler herd.

A culling and replacement strategy is hugely important in maintaining an efficient suckler herd. The decision to cull cows can often be very difficult on many farms; however it is a necessary task in order to maximise herd productivity and output on your farm.

Between 15%-20% of suckler cows should be culled annually. The main reasons for culling are:

  • Infertility - Should not be more than 5% due to natural infertility. More than 5% suggests that there is a fertility problem in the herd.
  • Health/Disease Problems - feet/legs, persistent lameness, Mastitis, damaged teats on udder, injury, persistent calving problems, problem with pin bones etc. Cows tested PI for BVD/Johne's disease/Neosporosis should be culled
  • Docility/ Temperament issues - Especially after calving. Cows showing prolonged calving aggression (longer than a few days) should be culled once their calf has been weaned. Other cows that are difficult to handle/dangerous should be considered for culling.
  • Cow Milkability - Poor Milkers - Reflected in poor calf growth rates.
  • Age - When the cow is no longer able to physically bear and nourish a calf.

Producing poor quality progeny - Cow which consistently produces calves of poorer quality and daily live weight gains compared to the average in the herd.

Income from the sale of cull cows can make a valuable contribution to cash flow on many suckler farms. In order to maximise the income from cull cows, important decisions need to be made on suckler farms in relation to the timing of sale of cull cows and/or to sell them live or finish them.

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The outcome of this process will be largely influenced by cow condition, fodder availability, housing facilities, concentrate prices and current cull cow market.


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