For many of you spring calving may have only just got underway or is due to start soon, but it is never too early to start thinking about next year and getting those cows back in calf. In terms of fertility the overall aim for suckler herds is for each cow to rear (at least) one calf a year, with a calving interval as close to 365 days as possible. The true measure of fertility in suckler herds also includes the number of cows that can get in calf over a short bulling period to achieve a tight calving period.

The aim is for a 9 week calving block with 65% calving in the first 3 weeks. The benefits of a tight calving block include:

  • Higher calf weaning weights and a more even batch of calves
  • Less disease risk in calves due to small age range of calves
  • Reduced labour during calving
  • Easier to manage feeding requirements for cows in late gestation and lactation
  • Fewer late calvings, reducing risk of over fit cows and calving difficulties
  • Increased number of early born calves giving a larger pool of heifers at suitable weights and maturity to choose replacements from

But how can we achieve this and what do you need to consider if you want to achieve that compact calving block?

The ideal body condition score for spring calving:

Source: Quality Meat Scotland

Management of bulling heifers –

Choosing which heifers to keep on as replacements is a critical choice for the future of the herd. Heifers born early in the calving period will likely be heavier
at bulling and genetically more fertile.

Cow management –

Body condition scoring regularly to ensure cows are in optimum condition throughout the whole year is key, poor condition scores lead to poor fertility and it is difficult to change body condition quickly, start thinking about what condition you want cows calving down in next year and work backwards to think about how
you are going to achieve this.

Bull –

50% of your calf’s genetics are coming from the bull, so in some cases 50% of the herd’s future are coming from just one animal. Think about choosing a bull with easy calving traits and making sure he is fertile before he starts work by getting him fertility tested by your vet (more than 1/5 of working bulls are subfertile or infertile).

Herd health –

We love talking about herd health, but it is important and there are lots of infectious diseases that can have a dramatic impact on fertility including BVD, Leptospirosis, campylobacter, IBR, and Johnes. If you vaccinate for BVD, Lepto or IBR make sure your cows and heifers are up to date before service. If you want to know more about the disease status of your herd give us a call and we will be happy to chat through options to find out, it is also now a requirement for Red Tractor assured beef farms to have a BVD control plan so worth thinking about this before next season.

Synchronisation programmes –

Can be used to tighten the calving block. Synchronisation protocols can either be used to get cows that calved late in the season cycling quicker to bring them back into the block or at the start of the mating period to help achieve that target of >60% calving in the first 3 weeks. These programmes can be used in conjunction with AI to bring in new and better genetics or with the farm’s stock bull and natural services.

Up here in Lancs, we’ve had some success over the past couple of years using synch programmes to tighten calving blocks with one farm having managed to shorten their calving block from 20 weeks a few years ago to this year where all the cows bar one are predicted to calve down in a calving period lasting just over 10 weeks. Still, room to improve but great to see how the block can be shortened significantly over a short period of time.

The above only scratches the surface of the topic of suckler herd fertility but if that has sparked an interest and you want to know more, we’re hosting an on farm meeting up here in Lancs on Wednesday 11th May at Myerscough College.