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Future Beef Newsletter April 2023

Eamon & Donnchadh McCarthy

Farmer Profile | Farm Update

John Dunne - Farm Update | Teagasc Kildalton - Farm UpdateTop Tips for April

Top Tips for AprilTop Tips for April

Breeding Farm Walks to introduce SCEP

On the 20th of March Minister Charlie McConalogue lauched the new Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme (SCEP), the follow on to BDGP. It will be worth approximately €5,000 to a 40 cow suckler herd. To help inform farmers of the term and conditions of the scheme and how they can be met, Teagasc is running 16 Suckler breeding events across the country.  Each event will be attended by Teagasc, ICBF, Bord Bia, local AI companies and automated heat detection companies. These will be ideal events to find out everything SCEP. Staff will be on hand to look up your herd and see how you are currently meeting the requirements. Click on the link here to see where your local event is.  

Eamon & Donnchadh McCarthy Farmer Profile

Eamonn & Donnchadh McCarthy Future Beef farmers

Donnchadh & Eamon McCarthy

Eamon and his son Donnchadh are operating a suckler to beef enterprise in Carrigeen, Glendine, Youghal, Co. Waterford. Both work part-time on the farm.

Farm Size: 45.6ha – three blocks including 4.6ha in winter barley and 11.8ha in Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The barley produced is kept and fed back to the finishing cattle.

System: 31 cow spring calving suckler herd and 18 autumn calvers. The males are finished as u16month bull beef with an average 406kg carcass, grade U=3-. Heifers not kept for breeding are finished under 22 months at 320kg carcass weight, grade U-3-. All breeding heifers calve between 22-26 months of age and 100% AI is used on the farm.

Key Focus Areas

  • Maximise weight gain off grass – reduce concentrate input
  • Reduce age at slaughter
  • Improve soil fertility and consequently reduce chemical Nitrogen usage
  • Incorporate red and white clover

The plan is to increase stocking rate to 160kg N/HA to match the current potential of grass grown on the farm. Eamon and Donnchadh are measuring grass and using PBI for the last number of years so they know what the farm is capable of growing. Matching input to soil requirements is to be looked at. Some fields have been subdivided with a better layout for water troughs for more efficient movement of animals.

Eamon & Donnchadh McCarthy March/April 2023 Update

Eamon & Donnchadh use 100% AI which allows them to pick the best maternal and terminal bulls available.

All calves born on the farm are registered by DNA, which means that genomic evaluations are available for heifers well before they are bred at 15 months of age. Once the heifers are genotyped, Wetherbys are contacted to obtain the myostatin information for the heifers, AKA the ‘double muscling gene’. This indicates if heifers are likely to produce double muscled calves with heavier birthweights or not. All of this information helps to make more informed breeding decisions and AI bulls are selected to suit individual heifers and cows.

Both the autumn and spring breeding seasons are restricted to 6 weeks which is useful for labour management, but creates a challenge for sourcing replacements as there is a replacement rate of 25-30%, instead of the standard 20%. Therefore Eamon & Donnchadh have decided to use sexed semen for the first time this year. They plan to breed all maternal cows that come bulling in the first 3 weeks of the breeding season to a sexed Simmental bull, SI4147. The main difference with using sexed semen is that females must be bred at 14-20 hours after the start of standing heat to achieve the best conception rates. Click here to learn more about Using sexed semen in the suckler herd (pdf).

View the video below to see how Eamon & Donnchadh pick bulls to complement their cows;

Click here to find out more about Eamon and Donnchadh’s farm this spring.

John Dunne March/April 2023 Update

John Dunne

Having clear fertility targets for a herd is one of the first goals in any farm plan. Output on a suckler farm is directly related to the number of live calves weaned each year. Calving heifers at 24 months of age, having a tight calving pattern, aiming for a short calving interval and keeping mortality to a minimum are some of the key targets. John wants to increase suckler cow numbers going forward. However, the existing herd needs to hit the specific key performance targets below before increasing any numbers;

  • Compact calving (80% of cows calved in 60 days).
  • A 365-day calving interval.
  • 0.95 calves reared /cow/ year.
  • Low culling rate (less than 5%)
  • Replacement heifers with a high value replacement index
  • 5-6 calves/cow/lifetime on average.
  • Less than 5% calf mortality by 28 days.
  • Maximum use of cross-breeding (hybrid vigour) to improve cow fertility and calf survival.

 Beef breeding on any suckler farm covers two important areas:

  1. Genetic improvement in the suckler cow herd and the sires used on it and
  2. Achieving fertility targets to maximise farm output

Read more on how John’s breeding plan will work to address these two areas in the next 5 years under the Future Beef programme.

Teagasc Kildalton - Have you checked your bull!!

Kildalton Bull Side View

Charolais stock bull in Kildalton

We are now in April and while there is still a focus on getting the last of those cows safely calved, we should now also be looking at next year’s crop of calves. One very important half of this equation is the stock bull. Did you know?:

  • Only 5% of stock bulls are infertile
  • However, 25% can be or become sub fertile.
  • Daily sperm production and semen quality is related to scrotal circumference,
  • The semen used to inseminate a cow today would have begun to be produced almost ten to eleven weeks ago 
  • Infections and viruses can cause sub fertility
  • Bull mobility issues reduce conception rates

On most farms, the bull has been in a bull pen for the last four months, hopefully on good quality silage and is in a fit not fat condition heading into the breeding season. Now is the time to ensure that this money-maker will indeed make you money.

The causes of sub fertility in bulls are numerous – infection, either viral or bacterial e.g. IBR or lameness, fatness, a hurt etc. Therefore, it is critical that your stock bull is checked well in advance of the breeding season. 

1. A bull NCT should include:

a. Feet should be sound, lameness will reduce his ability to mount and maybe the result of an infection which could cause a rise in body temperature and thus cause the bull to be sub fertile.

b. Ensure the bull is walking well- again mobility issues will reduce his ability to mate.

c. Check is scrotum is clean and without deformities. A bull’s virility is directly related to the size of his scrotum, the bigger the better within reason. A mature bull should have a scrotal circumference of at least 34cm while a young 17-month-old bull should be at least 31cm, see Figure 1. . The scrotum should feel like a bicep muscle, the testes should be balanced in size and all should be free from deformities.

Age in Months12-1516-2122-24>24
Minimum Scrotal Circumference 30cm 31cm 33cm 34cm

Figure 1: Minimum scrotal circumference for bulls per month of age

d. Check the penis is free from swellings and discharges.

e. Give all vaccinations and any doses well in advance of the breeding season.

f.  Avoid stress – stress can weaken the immune system which may lead to viruses or disease, a rise in body temperature and thus reduced fertility.

2. Have your bull on a good plane of nutrition, he has a long hard season ahead and will need good body  reserves to do a good job. However, there is a fine line, you do not want him fat.

3. You can ask your vet to fertility test your bull 6-8 weeks pre breeding.

4. Once the bull goes in with the cows – observe, observe, observe. Record servings and ensure to check 25- 28 days later for repeats. If there are several you need to act quickly, remove the bull, insert a new one or use AI. If you are selling weanlings, every cycle missed could be worth 28 days x 1.2Kgx €3.00 = €100 per cow.

Breeding Season

John O’Connor and Billy Fraher in Kildalton College run one of the top performing suckler herds in the country as can be seen in Figure 2 below. In 2023, 59 cows, including 12 heifers calving at two years of age have calved and there are 60 live calves on the ground, another great year.

2023 calving report for Kildalton suckler herd

Figure 2: 2023 Calving report for Kildalton suckler herd

One of the figures I focus on is the six week calving rate as this relates directly back to now, the breeding season.  In Kildalton 43 of the 59 cows/heifers to calve, calved down in the first six weeks. While John and Billy ensure that the suckler cow is in the best possible position, i.e.

  • she is in a Body Condition Score (BCS) of 3.0 when calving,
  • she is put in calf to a matching sire, either the stock bull or an AI sire, they do not want hard calving’s,
  • she gets a top quality pre-calving mineral,
  • she moves onto a 72%+ DMD silage after calving and goes to grass as soon as possible.

They also know the stock bull needs particular attention well in advance of the breeding season starting. John explains below how they manage their bull to achieve such a compact calving

“We only have one stock bull as we use AI on the farm. We pick out 50% of the cows, which are five star on the replacement index and are good cows, with good milk and AI them to a high replacement index sire. We also AI the replacements that calve at 2 years of age as the stock bull is too strong for them, see his ICBF report in figure 3.  The stock bull goes in with the rest, around 30 -35 cows.

When buying a bull, we always ensure he is fertility tested, or if he was lame or sick since the last breeding season we will always test him again, as this can affect his fertility. We got caught before and he really messed up the calving season.

Also we ensure to house him with a few bullocks, we did have a bull pen away from the other stock, but it made the bull wicked, so now he goes in on matted slats with 3 bullocks.

He is vaccinated the same as the cows, so in Kidalton that’s a clostridial and IBR vaccine

He is now on top quality silage and 1.5Kg of meal, to build him up for the breeding season, he is in good condition, fit not fat. Billy trimmed his feet before he came in and last week we walked him around the yard to check them and his mobility and he is very good on his feet. We usually like to have him out a week or two before the breeding season to improve his mobility and adjust him to grass, but with the weather this year, he is only going out the weekend and we will start the breeding season on Monday, the 3rd of April.

It is then all down to observation, we check the cows a couple of times a day, the cows are tail painted, we record all activity. It is hugely important to watch for repeats after 25 days or so. Seeing one or two is a worry, but any more than that and we need to look at using AI on the rest and testing the bull. Any delay in putting cows in calf is a cost to the system, but it also means a longer calving season next year, more work, lighter weanlings and we may have to cull good cows. A little work now will pay dividends next spring.”

Eurostar report for stock bull in Kildalton

Eurostar index breakdown for stock bull in Kildalton

Figure 3: Eurostar details of stock bull in Kildalton