Options for late calving sucklers

Achieving a 12 to 14 week calving season is a realistic target for most suckler farms

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Matt O'Sullivan

Are you worried about your Suckler cows calving too late in the Spring or even into early Summer? Is the calving season too long and drawn out? 

Achieving a 12 to 14 week calving season is a realistic target for most suckler farms with some farmers having 80% cows calved within eight weeks.

To achieve these targets it is important to pay close attention to those late calving cows. It will take some effort and time to get these cows back in line with the main herd. 

Ultimately, it may mean that culling or recycling will be the only option for some cows. 

Cows may fail to show signs of heat 60-70 days after calving which may be due to a number of reasons including low body condition score at calving, young cows/first calvers, difficulty at calving, cow's with twins, underlying mineral deficiency etc. 

The number one requirement to make any progress on bringing these cows forward is to ensure they have a good plain of nutrition.

Ideally have them on the best grass available and ensure they are up to date with any mineral boluses if using them. Some tips on what else to do to bring forward the calving date of these late calving cows may include removing the calf from the cow.

This is an easier task when cows are indoors but some farmers are practising it outdoors where calves are separated during the day while cows are grazing. 

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The bond between a suckler cow and calf is a major factor which can delay the onset of cyclicity after calving.  For late-calving cows, cow-calf separation should begin when cows are 30 days calved and should continue for 2-3 weeks with calves allowed to suckle morning and evening.

This is a cheap option but demands time and appropriate facilities (very good fencing, etc.). Calf removal/separation can equally be applied to cows that are longer calved and are not cyclic. 

Eighty five per cent of these cows will show heat within 2-3 weeks of the first separation. If heat is not induced within three weeks of calf separation it is likely that the cows are not cyclic for nutritional or other reasons and a more aggressive treatment such as the use of a PRID or CIDR is needed.

Scanning any cow that has not cycled after 60 days of calving should also be considered. This will identify any underlying issue such as uterine infections or cystic ovaries. 

Another option is to try hormonal treatments. A simple prostaglandin programme or the insertion of an intravaginal progestagen device such as a Delta- PRID or CIDR for 8 days is capable of inducing heat in about 80-90% of anoestrous cows.

There are various synchronisation programmes that can be undertaken and it is recommended that cows are at least 35 days calved when she starts a programme. Ensure that cows calve down in good condition (BCS 3.0+). Have replacement heifers well grown at time of first breeding and are bred to calve at the start of the calving season.

Adopt a higher replacement rate for a number of years with heifers calving at the start of the season and cull very late calving cows.  Limit the breeding period to 12 - 14 weeks and have a definite start and finish date for breeding. If you are using AI use shorter gestation bulls for the later calving cows.

If using natural service monitor bull fertility and never assume that a bull is fertile. If you have an extended calving season, say 16-20 weeks, give yourself up to three years to achieve your targets.

A more compact calving will reduce labour, have less disease e.g. scour, better fertility due to more cows coming in heat at the one time and more marketing options with calves of similar age and also potential for higher weight gains off grass as the older calves.

Matt O'Sullivan Teagasc Adviser Kerry


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