Herd fertility is critical to profits
After two weeks of fine weather, the feed and grass problems are, at last, declining and we can turn our attention to other matters.
The sole output from a beef cow is her calf, whether sold as a weanling, store or as a finished animal. Therefore, herd fertility is a critical factor influencing profitability.
Data from ICBF shows that for the beef herds on their database which are most likely to be above average in performance, the top 15pc have a calving interval of 364 days, which is excellent, whereas on the bottom 15pc it is 434 days (ie, 434 days between successive calvings). This difference of 70 days represents a loss of one calf per cow in the herd every five years. If the average value of a weanling (males and females) is €550, this represents a difference in profit of €110/cow between the top 15pc and bottom 15pc of herds.
The national average calving interval is 399 days. Comparing the top 15pc of herds with the national average in the same way shows a difference in profitability of €53/cow in favour of the top 15pc. No doubt there is great scope for improvement, but fertility is a complex issue and depends on getting several factors right.
Following the severe winter and spring, many might say that maintaining herd fertility would be an achievement in itself rather than going for a big improvement. However, data indicates that a major improvement is necessary on many suckler farms. The top performing herds are achieving the following targets:
- An average calving interval of about 365 days.
- 0.95 calves born/cow to the bull.
- 60pc of cows calved in the first month of the calving season.
- All cows calved within 12 weeks.
- Calf mortality of 2pc at birth and 3pc up to 28 days.
Achieving these targets depends on a high level of herd management and herd health.
Assuming there are no herd health problems, the two main factors that influence fertility are cow body condition score and bull fertility for herds with a stock bull. Accurate heat detection is an added factor where AI is used.