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How’s the breeding season progressing for Future Beef Programme farmers?

How’s the breeding season progressing for Future Beef Programme farmers?

Aisling Molloy, Future Beef Programme Advisor, outlines how the breeding season is progressing for some of the farmers enrolled in the Future Beef Programme.

Ruairi Cummins, Kilmoganny, Co. Kilkenny

Farming 35ha of owned land, split into two main blocks, Ruairi Cummins carries 45 spring-calving suckler cows. Bulls are brought to beef at under 16 months and heifers are sold as stores at 16-18 months.

The breeding season on Ruairi’s farm began on April 10th, with two separate groups of cows and one Charolais bull with each. The two groups are now joined together with the older bull, and the younger bull is separated from the herd. This is leaving it much easier to manage grass.

Most of the cows (pictured above) have been served now and there appears to be very few repeating. Breeding will be finished on June 15th and hopefully conception rates will be good. Ruairi noticed that the cows were slower than usual to come cycling this year; the extended time in the shed during March did not help and neither did the cold weather at turnout. The heifers have all been artificially inseminated and were kept in a field beside the yard to make heat detection easier.

Ruairi contacted Wetherbys to assess the myostatin status of the younger Charolais bull on the farm. It shows that he is a carrier of the Q204X variant, which can result in double muscling and enhanced muscle tenderness, but with increased birthweights and increased calving difficulty. This helps to explain the two large calves that were born by caesarean section this year. The cow’s genetics also come into play. If she also carries a Q204X variant, it further increases the risk of difficult calvings. Ideally, if present, the F94L variant will result in calves with increased muscling, reduced external and intramuscular fat, but with no increase in birth weights.

Calving performance

With calving now completed and all the calves registered, Ruairi has been examining his calving performance for 2023. Calving began on January 30th and finished on March 30th, resulting in a calving spread of eight weeks and three days. 44 cows calved in total, producing 44 live calves at birth. However, two calves died before they were 28 days of age, resulting in a mortality figure of 4.5% (target <5%).

Table 1: Top six key performance indicators (KPIs) (ICBF Calving Report)

 Ruairi's herdNational averageBottom 10%Top 10%
Calving interval (days) 367 393 437 358
Mortality - dead at birth (%) 0 0.86 3.7 0
Mortality - dead at 28 days (%) 4.5 2.07 6.9 0
Calves per cow per year 0.95 0.87 0.68 1.02
Heifers calved at 22-26 months (%) 100 24 0 75
Spring six-week calving rate (%) 89 55 14 100

Due to the excellent calving interval of 367 days, there were 0.95 calves produced for every cow on the farm, which is on target. 100% of the heifers calved at 22-26 months of age and the six-week calving rate was 89%. No cows were recycled on the farm, i.e. slipped from one calving season to the other and seven cows were culled, giving a replacement rate of 16%. Five calves (11.4%) were born with ‘serious difficulty’ and/or ‘requiring veterinary assistance’. Ruairi was very happy with the calving season this year, despite the weather, the two caesarean sections and the work associated with the slower calves as result.

For more information on grassland management and animal performance on Ruairi’s farm, click here.

Ger McSweeney, Milstreet, Co. Cork

Down Cork way, calving started on January 6th this year for Future Beef participant Ger McSweeney and finished on March 28th – a total of 11 weeks and four days.

The breeding targets for suckler herd are to have a calving spread of <12 weeks; calving interval of 365 days; mortality less than 5% at 28 days; 0.95 calves per cow per year; calve heifers at 24 months, where they meet their target weights; and to have no recycled cows on the farm.

Cows and calves on Ger McSweeneys farm May 2023

30 cows and four heifers have been bred since March 17th. Six sexed semen straws were given to pre-selected females and three of these repeated afterwards. A further seven cows have repeated after being given conventional AI straws. Four cows have been selected for culling – two cows that lost calves and a further two that are suspect for neospora. Therefore, there are eight cows and three heifers that are yet to be bred (45 in total). All of the heifers being bred will calve at 22-26 months of age.

Ger is planning to have a 12-week breeding season and will be finishing on June 9th. He is artificially inseminating the herd himself, as he qualified with a DIY AI licence. He has an automated heat detection system, which sends him a notification when females are in heat and it also indicates the best times for insemination to maximise conception rates on the farm.

Calving performance

39 calves were born from 38 eligible females. The ICBF calving report shows that the calving interval was 362 days, well ahead of the national average of 393 days. The calves per cow year was 0.93 due to four calf mortalities, but was well ahead of the national average of 0.87 calves per cow per year. 100% of the heifers (nine) that calved this spring were between 22-26 months of age, compared to 24% nationally. The spring six-week calving rate was 66%, which Ger was quite happy with and is also ahead of the national average at 55%. No cows were recycled on the farm and there were nine cows culled to date, which amounted to 24%. Most of these were culled last year due to suspect or positive diagnoses for neospora.

For more information from Ger McSweeney’s farm click here.

Kay O’Sullivan, Mallow, Co. Cork

Kay O’Sullivan farms under organics in Mallow, Co. Cork. This year, 19 cows and 11 heifers are available for breeding. The breeding season will start on June 12th and finish at the end of August (10.5 week breeding season).

Kay is in an excellent position, as she has 11 heifers that were born in 2022 that are all suitable for breeding. They range from a Replacement Index value of €117 to €163, are all genotyped, have a positive figure for daughter milk and a negative figure for daughter calving interval. They are all at their target weights for breeding and are docile. As they are fully organic cattle, there is an opportunity for Kay to sell some of these in calf later in the year to new entrant organic farmers. If they do not go in calf, she can also choose to finish them on the farm with the bullocks.

Angus cows and calves on Kay O'Sullivans farm May 2023

She has selected an easy-calving Angus bull to breed the heifers to. His AI code is AA6331 and he has a beef heifer calving difficulty of 3.7% at 71% reliability. His daughter milk figure is +9kg and the daughter calving interval is -5.8 days. He has a carcass weight figure of 17kg and a carcass conformation of 0.93. Most importantly, he has a Replacement Index of €159 and is 5 stars for maternal traits, so his daughters will be suitable replacements. He is also not related to any of the heifers.

The AI bulls being used on the cows are ESH, KYA, AA5310, AA4633, AA4632 and AA8640. These bulls have been selected mainly for their maternal traits, but AA8640 and AA6331 have good figures for carcass weight as well.

Kay’s cows have a Replacement Index value of €105, with -2kg carcass weight, -6.38 days daughter calving interval, 5.4kg daughter milk and 0.02 docility. She plans to increase the Eurostar value of the herd by €5/year and to do so she chose bulls with a minimum Replacement Index of €120. The carcass weight figure for the herd is low, so she aims to use bulls with a positive figure for carcass weight. Any bulls with a negative carcass weight figure are used on the biggest cows.

In addition to selecting bulls for breeding, Kay has also recently established a red clover sward. Find out more information on the on her plans for this sward here.

Each month, the Future Beef Programme team provide updates on farmers enrolled in the programme across the country. For more information on the programme and to find your nearest Future Beef Programme demonstration farm, visit the Future Beef webpage.