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Adoption of Breeding Technologies on Future Beef Farms


The aim of Future Beef is to demonstrate to beef farmers how they can produce a quality product as efficiently as possible. This will make beef farming more profitable while also making it more environmentally and socially sustainable. FutureBeef advisor Gabriel Trayers gives further advice

To meet the objective above one of the first steps is to examine the breeding performance of a participant’s suckler herd. These figures can be easily ascertained through the ICBF reports. A profitable, efficient suckler herd will have to target and reach the specific Key Performance Indicators (KPI) outlined below.

Breeding Targets for Suckler Herds

Breeding performance of the herd v national average    
Key performance indicator (KPI)National averageTargetDifference in net margin/cow
Reproductive KPIs   
Calves/cow/year 0.85  0.95  €98 
Age at first calving - months 32  24  €77 
6 week calving rate 55  82  €30 
Productive KPIs   
Calves ADG to weaning 1.05  1.20  €97 
Concentrates to cows annually kg 450  200  €80 

Concentrates at €350 - Beef price €2.50/kg live weight

Carefully identifying better animals and breeding them with other superior animals will improve the genetics of a herd. Enhanced genetics will lead to greater profitability. Genetic improvement is permanent and cumulative and if you use animals with high genetic merit the herd performance will benefit into the future. Artificial insemination (AI) offers suckler herd owners access to a range of these proven, genetically superior bulls of different breeds and using AI can fast-track genetic improvement of the suckler herd.

Using AI

In Ireland, less than 20% of calves in beef herds are bred from AI. Such low usage of this effective technology most likely reflects the difficulty and labour requirements for heat detection, assembly of cow(s) for insemination as well as land fragmentation in beef herds.

However, there maybe opportunities to use some AI on beef farms. One such farmer in the Future suckler beef programme, is John Dunne. John farms circa 79ha just outside the village of Portarlington and another block of 50ha between Portarlington and Tullamore  Current cow numbers are 50 and all progeny are brought to beef. The plan is to increase this to 90 in the next few years. John acknowledges that he needs to improve on the KPI’s mentioned above and needs to improve the overall genetic merit of the herd.

In May of this year John assembled 35 maiden heifers by purchasing 28 and selecting 7 of his best homebred heifers. John never used AI before but after attending a farm walk that discussed the use of AI with synchronisation, he decided to give it a go.

What is Heat Synchronisation?

Simply put ‘oestrous or heat synchronisation’ is the process of manipulating the oestrous cycle of the cow by the use of synthetic hormones in order to better manage the timing of breeding.

Why should a farmer consider using synchronisation?

  • So he/she can plan the dates to best suit the availability of labour on the farm
  • With timed AI all cows can be bred on a predetermined day, regardless of whether they showed heat or not
  • It can also be used to induce heat in anoestrous cows. However, conception rate achieved at the induced heat in such cows is generally lower than cows that are cyclic, fertility at subsequent repeat heats is normal (55-70%)
  • Increasing the use of AI means you can have a more targeted breeding policy
  • You can use more bulls of higher genetic merit
  • You can have a more focused replacement policy
  • It helps to shorten the breeding season and compacts the following calving season
  • For larger herds the need for a number of natural service bulls can be reduced and thus the quality improved

How did it work on John’s Farm?

On the advice of his local vet, John followed a specific protocol;

  • DAY 0 ; PRID inserted + Receptal
  • DAY 7; PRID removed from the heifers
  • DAY 8; Receptal 2.5ml @ 6-8pm
  • Day 9; All 35 AI’d

The heifers were kept close to the yard for the 9 days and then removed to the outfarm with an Angus bull to mob up.

Results

The 35 heifers were scanned in late June and 21 out of the 35 are in calf to AI, as a result of the synchronisation programme ie 60%. John is very happy with the result as he would not  have been able  to use AI without it. High value maternal bulls such as LM2014 have been used, so any female progeny should make ideal replacements for the future. For 2023, he is planning to use heat detection aids and use AI on the cows for 3 weeks and then use a bull for 6 weeks. The synchronisation programme will be used again on the maiden heifers next year.

Sexed Semen

Over in Roscommon, Shane Keaveney, scanned his 12 replacement heifers on July 14th and 10 are in calf. That is 83% which is very acceptable. A vasectomised bull with a chin ball was used to for heat detection and AI was used on all the heifers. For the first time, sexed semen was used on 7 heifers.  9 sexed semen straws were used on the 7 as 2 repeated and the scanning revealed that 6 out of this 7 are in calf. If they all keep, he his guaranteed at least 6 heifers from the sexed semen trial which is an adequate number for his herd size. The breeding of these heifers started on May 6th and finished on June 11th so the calving will be nice and compact next year.

As Shane is  now using a terminal CH bull on the  herd, using sexed semen is an option to breed replacements from a herd size of 35.  Buying a replacement bull could not be justified and sourcing suitable heifers at the marts that will calve at 2 years of age is also a challenge. Sexed semen is allowing him to breed from within the herd.  With more choice of sexed semen bulls coming on stream -it’s an option that will be considered again next year. Using sexed semen for replacements and a CH terminal bull keeps the breeding policy simple for the farm.

Read more about the Future Beef Programme