Suckler herd fertility showing steady improvement, but still a way to go.

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The 2013 ICBF beef calving reports were generated in September. The calving reports run from mid-year, therefore the 2013 data covers the period from 1st July 2012 to 30th June 2013. The report is designed to give farmers an in depth insight into the reproductive performance of their herds. It also allows them to compare their herds to national averages as well as the performance of the top 15% of herds.

The statistics show a steady improvement in the fertility of the national suckler herd. The average calving interval has decreased to 395 days (see graph above) and this represents an almost 2 week improvement on the high of 407 days in 2011. While progress is evident, the average suckler cow in Ireland is still only calving once every 13 months, a trend which is not commercially sustainable. The full tables of statistics are outlined below for both the national average and the top 15% of herds.

beef calving stats

top 15

There are some points of note from these statistics. These include:

–          Females not Calved: In the year July 2012 to June 2013, 10% of all suckler females that had previously calved, did not have a calf in this period. The top 15% of herds are at 0% meaning all of their previously calved cows that were still in the herd, calved again in this period.

–          Calves per Cow per Year: This represents the number of calves alive at 28 days for every eligible female (previously calved) in the herd. Of every 100 eligible females there was an output of just 83 calves. The top 15% of herds are at 100 calves to every 100 eligible females (a calf per cow per year).

–          Births with Recorded Sire and Recorded Calving Ease: Accurate and comprehensive data recording on farms is vital to the future of beef breeding. Unfortunately the recording of sires and calving ease has dropped to 61% in both cases. The top 15% of herds are at full data recording with 100% of sires and calving ease being recorded.

–          Heifers Calved 22-26 Months of Age: Only 16% of the heifers that calve on Irish suckler farms are calved at 22-26 months of age. Farmers are calving heifers later which seriously reduces output and increases costs. If you compare this to the average dairy figure of 59%, it is clear that the suckler herd is really falling down in this area. Even the top 15% of suckler herds are only calving 50% of their heifers at 22-26 months of age.

Calving Spread

The calving spread stats show that on average, calving is far from a seasonal event on Irish suckler farms. The table below gives a breakdown of calving spread for different herd sizes.

spread

It is interesting to note that as herd size increases, calving interval decreases which means that bigger herds are much more efficient when it comes to reproduction. The greatest proportion of herds calving 1-10 females shows these herds calving in 3 months of the year (3.33 calvings per month for a 10 cow herd). In the 11-20 category herds in the highest proportion are calving in 5 months (4 calvings per month for a 20 cow herd). The 21-30 category is at 6 months (5 calvings per month for a 30 cow herd) and the >30 category is at 7 months per year (7.14 calves per month for a 50 cow herd). An absence of tight, defined calving seasons on beef farms is evident from the above stats. Overly spread out calving leads to increased labour, more groups of cattle and lack of uniformity of stock.

Heifer Management

An important aspect of calving beef heifers at 24 months is making sure that they meet target weights. Weighing all cattle is good practice and this is particularly true for replacement heifers. Farmers can do this by using their own scales and subsequently recording weights on the ICBF website, or they can avail of the ICBF technician service. Once heifers are weighed farmers can assess performance levels accurately and see where their heifers stand in relation to targets. The table below gives a simple outline of target weights at different ages, for calving beef heifers at 24 months.

 weights

While environment and management practises have a big impact on reproductive efficiency, genetics also have a big part to play. By continuously selecting breeding females with a high maternal (replacement) index and high PTA’s for milk and calving interval, farmers can significantly, increase performance and output in their herds.

If you have any questions on the calving report, the above statistics, or the Euro-Star ratings of animals, please do not hesitate to call ICBF HerdPlus® on LoCall 1850 600 600.