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Calving coming to a close and preparing for breeding at Derrypatrick

Calving coming to a close and preparing for breeding at Derrypatrick

Two key aims of Derrypatrick herd are to achieve a nine week breeding season and to have over 80% of the cows calving in the first six weeks. Peter Doyle, Research Officer at Teagasc Grange, tells us how this is achieved.

As of April 1, six weeks of the calving season had elapsed and 84% of the cows had calved. Plans are also in place for the breeding season, which will begin in the first week of May.  

These targets are hugely beneficial from both a labour point of view and to produce a uniform heavier crop of calves. To achieve these targets, careful management is required both pre breeding and during breeding.

Currently, we are monitoring cow body condition score (BCS). Ideally, cows’ BCS should be 2.5. Any thin cows (<2.5 BCS), and in particular first calvers, are prioritised for early turnout. In light of the poor grazing conditions, there are currently seven cows and calves per grazing group to minimise damage.

We also have our replacement heifers picked well in advance of breeding, so we can ensure they are at 60% of their mature body weight by the start of the breeding season.

Additionally, a pre-breeding scan takes place before breeding. This gives us a chance to identify replacement heifers that are not cycling or any reproductive problems with cows. Last year, 13% of the cows in the Derrypatrick herd had reproductive problems at the start of the breeding season and these problems were rectified before breeding began. Cows will also receive a BVD and lepto vaccine one month pre-breeding.

Watch the video below where Peter details preparations for the breeding season at Derrypatrick:

Selecting sires

Now provides a good time to identify a team of sires and match these to appropriate cows. On this farm, we are currently selecting sires based on the indexes. In particular, we are looking within the indexes to identify key traits that will help improve profitability and help us overcome challenges within our system.

Specific traits to select for within the indexes will vary on each farm, depending on the breeding policy and aims. Key aims of our farm system are to maximise calves per cow per year and to produce heavy carcass weights that are fit for slaughter at 20 months of age off grass, which provides a challenge. Therefore, we are selecting AI sires to help overcome these challenges and are focusing on the below criteria within breed:

  • Calving difficulty less than 8 %;
  • 5 star for carcass weight PTA;
  • 4 and 5 star for age to slaughter PTA;
  • 1 and 2 star within carcass fat PTA (improves fleshing ability);
  • Greater than 70 % reliability for all traits.

Heat detection

During breeding, good heat checking is essential. We complete 100% AI on this farm and heat detection methods include: a chin ball on the teaser bull; visual checking four times daily; and tail paint on the cows. The tail paint is topped up every two weeks. We start with the yellow paint. After the cows first AI, we change to green paint, and after the cow’s second AI we change to red paint. This colour code is very helpful to quickly identify cows that haven’t been served or cows that have been artificially inseminated multiple times.

This article first appeared in the Future Beef eNewletter for April. Click here to sign up for subsequent Future Beef enewsletters and to learn more about the programme.