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Breeding performance on the up on Beef Farms

Isn’t it great to see a positive story coming from the suckler herd. In the last six years things have really improved in suckler breeding. On average across all suckler herds calves/cow/year increased, calving interval decreased and more. Martina Harrington, Beef Specialist outlines what it's worth

What has improved?

On average across all suckler herds there has been an increase of 0.08 calves per cow per year (the Holy Grail in beef farming), the calving interval dropped by 11 days, the percentage of heifers calved between 22 & 26 months increased by 7% with the age at first calving dropping by 2 weeks.  

All of these improvements are good news for an individual farmer from a profitability point of view. Teagasc figures show that an increase of 0.08 calves per cow per year on your farm is worth ~ €70 in Net Margin per cow, while reducing your age at 1st calving by 2 weeks is worth €3 per cow and increasing your six week calving rate is worth ~ €10 per cow for every 10 percentage points you go up. So the average herd has increased the Net Margin of each suckler cow on their farm by €71.

On a 40 cow herd that’s an increase of €2,840 in Net Profit.

The top 10% of suckler farmers are performing even better with 1.04 calves per cow per year, 75% of their heifers calving between 22-26 months and 94% of their cows calving in six weeks. This is excellent performance and demonstrates what can be achieved at farm level with improved management around breeding.

So if you were at the average mark in 2014 and really concentrated on improving the breeding performance on your farm to become one of the top 10% of farmers in 2020, how would that have improved your finances.  Again looking at Teagasc figures in table 2, we compare the top 10% in 2020 against the national average in 2014 to show what the improved efficiencies would mean financially we get an increase of €285 in Net Margin per cow.

Again on a 40 cow herd that is an increase in Net profit of €11,400.


The good news does not stop there. When greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is calculated in terms of kgs of beef live weight (LW), these improved efficiencies also reduce the GHG emission intensity of from suckler farms. From 2014 to 2020 on the average farm, GHG emission intensity’s have dropped by approx. 6.6% (kg CO2 equivalent/kg LW). Even more impressive is when the top 10% in 2020 are compared to the average in 2014, here there is a drop of between 14 -20% (kg  CO2 equivalent/kg LW). Most of this drop in GHG emissions comes from the increase in calves per cow per year as there are less unproductive cows on farm.

5 Year Trend Report

The national figures are all going in the right direction, but what are the figures saying about your farms performance. In the past couple of weeks farmers would have been receiving their own 5 year trend report. This new report allows you to assess the breeding performance of your suckler herd over the last five years (2016 – 2020) on six Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s)

  1. Replacement Index (Cows)
  2. Replacement Index (1st Calvers)
  3. Herd Calving Interval
  4. Calves per Cow per Year
  5. Heifers Calved at 22-26 Months
  6. Six-week Calving Rate

As well as assessing your herds own performance, the report allows you to benchmark your herd against the national average and top 10% of suckler herds for each KPI.

The first box gives you a quick snapshot of your performance from 2016-2020. The layout is simple and clear and gives you at a glance your performance.


As you move down through the report graphs show how you have performed on the key KPI’s since 2016. Your own performance represented in the blue line is plotted alongside the national average in the broken line, but possibly more importantly alongside the Top 10% in the green. I think the graphs are great as they are very visual. You can pick out an increase or drop very easily. I have looked at many reports since January and invariably in 2019 the calving interval increased, possibly a hangover of the drought in 2018.


The last table is very useful giving you all 7 Key Performance Indicators for 2020 in the one table, with reference to the national average and the Top 10%. As you can see below this farmer has excellent performance. The only issue you may have is the fact his first time calvers have a lower replacement index than his cows. Is he going down a path that may undo all his progress??


Act Now

So for every farmer you need to take out your 5 year trend report, see where you are and then look at what you can do to try and push your herd up towards the Top 10%, put more money in your pocket and reduce GHG emission from your farm.

This could be:

  • Feed your suckler cow top quality silage (>70% DMD) after she has calved & get her to grass as soon as possible
  • Feed your first time calver’s 1-2Kg of meal until they hit grass
  • Get all cows and heifers out to grass as soon as possible.
  • If you are not already doing so, ensure you are feeding a top quality pre- calving mineral at a rate of 100gms per cow per day
  • Consider restricted suckling to bring your cow back in heat faster
  • Ensure you are using a bull your cows can calve easily, if a cow has a difficult calving it will take her much longer to go back in calf
  • Get your yearling heifers out to grass as soon as possible so they are a good weight for bulling (60% of their mature body weight) at 15 months.
  • Check all your vaccines are up to date.
  • As the season moves on, check your bull is in good working order and once he is in with the cows check cows several times a day. Write down dates of cows being served and watch for repeats, this will alert you earlier to any issues with your bull and you can act fast.

For more information on how to increase your breeding performance talk to your Teagasc advisor.

Where to access your 5 Year Trend Report

You will have received it in the post but if you wish you can also access it online by logging into ICBF,

  • Go to the reports dropdown and click on ‘all reports’
  • Click on ‘General’ and then select ‘5 Year Trend Report suckler herd’
  • Click on the most recent date for the most recently generated report.

For more on Breeding & Genetics click here