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Preparing for Breeding

As the calving season is coming to an end and the breeding season is about to start, it is timely that we should be looking at ways to maximise fertility on farms. Teagasc Beef Specialists outline the four key areas for most suckler farmers to consider here, and finish up with a Herd health reminder

Stock bull fertility

Every year we hear more and more farmers telling us that they have just found out their bull is not working, cows are empty and where to now? There are no simple answers, but one solution is to be proactive before the breeding season and give your bull his annual NCT. It is estimated that 25% of stock bulls are sub-fertile, so keeping a record of cows that you see being served early in the breeding season will give you a good idea if your bull is working well.

If a large number of your cows are repeating, you need to take action to find out what is wrong. You should have a small notebook in your pocket when you are checking cows and calves daily to record this service. Physically, your bull should have good legs and feet and be in good condition before being let out with cows. He should have a strong libido, a good supply of high sperm count semen and, if you are concerned or had problems last year, you can get your bull fertility tested. The cost of this test is very low if you compare it to carrying empty cows for the summer on your farm.

Avoiding difficult calving

We know that cows with a difficult calving take longer to come back into heat. With this in mind, maiden heifers should not be bred to bulls with a calving difficulty above 4%.

Suckler cow condition

The single most important factor influencing the reproductive efficiency in suckler cows is early onset of heat after calving. Teagasc research has shown that cows that have good body condition will come into heat quicker after calving than those with poor condition. Cows calving in moderate, as opposed to poor condition can advance the onset of heat cycles by one to two weeks, and this can be improved further by restricting access to suckling. Restricting access to suckle twice daily has proved very successful, with many cows coming into heat seven to ten days after this practice starts, from 30 days out from calving. This year, cows have generally been in good condition at calving, so use the restricted suckling technique to get cows back cycling as soon as possible.

Herd health

BVD, Leptospirosis and Johne’s disease are the three main infectious diseases that can have a large effect on herd fertility. These can cause poor conception rates, increased abortions, stillbirths, and increased calf mortality. You can vaccinate against BVD and Leptospirosis and, where problems have arisen in the past, every farm should have a herd health plan drawn up with your local vet.

Herd health reminder

As cattle go out to grass, vaccinate calves for clostridial diseases such as blackleg, tetanus and red water, etc. Farmers generally give the first shot as calves go to grass. Don’t forget to give the second shot four to six weeks later for full cover. Grass tetany is a high risk in April as weather is changeable and cows are under more stress from suckling calves. Supplement with magnesium in a way that suits your farm.

  1. Magnesium boluses.
  2. High magnesium licks.
  3. Magnesium added to drinking troughs.
  4. Extra forage at grass such as hay, straw or silage.
  5. Cal-Mag molasses solution in buckets in field.
  6. Feed high magnesium nuts to cows.
  7. Pasture dusting with Cal-Mag.

For more on this topic check out Teagasc Beef Breeding & Genetics page here