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Watch: 100% AI and a 10-week breeding season delivering for Newford

Watch: 100% AI and a 10-week breeding season delivering for Newford

Some may be fazed by the thoughts of using 100% artificial insemination (AI) on a fragmented suckler farm. However, this was certainly not the case and in fact the direct opposite for Newford based on the breeding performance of the herd.

The performance and implementation of this breeding policy was discussed at depth at today's open day at Newford Farm, Athenery, Co. Galway by Catherine Egan, Teagasc Beef Specialist, and Donall Fahy and Stephen Frend of Newford.

Stephen Frend talks about how 100% AI and a 10-week breeding season is delivering results for Newford farm

The original 11-week breeding policy on the farm involved six weeks of AI and running two stock bulls for a further five weeks to mop up. However, a new breeding regime was implemented in 2017, the stock bulls were sold and the farm moved to 100% AI.

The breeding season has also since been reduced to 10 weeks. It didn’t make financial sense keeping two stock bulls on the farm, when they only needed to run with the cows for five weeks. Newford farm has found that with the correct management and nutrition, cow fertility has been excellent; cows show signs of heat activity three to five weeks post-calving.

Read The Newford Suckler Open Day booklet here

Table 1: Comparison of 2015 and 2023 herd performance

Cow Replacement Index (€) 106 133 26
First calver Replacement Index (€) 131 165 52
Calving interval (days) 371 364 -3
Calves per cow per year 0.93 0.96 0
Heifers calving at 22-26 months (%) 100 100 0
Six-week calving rate (%) 64 90 67

A simple but effective breeding policy

The farm’s breeding policy is simple yet very effective. Three vasectomised teaser bulls are purchased and arrive on farm the first week of April and are quarantined for three weeks. The vasectomised bulls are fitted with a Moocall HEAT Collar and chin ball.

The use of these two heat detection methods and tail painting cows results in heats not being missed. Pre-breeding heat checks are completed three weeks before insemination begins. This process helps identify cows or heifers that are not expressing heat activity and allows for further intervention and usually veterinary assistance is required.

Completing three weeks of pre-breeding checks is worth doing, as the six-week calving rate for the herd has been greater than 86% for the past several years.

Once-a-day AI has been completed for the last number of years and has proven very successful. Any cow or heifer in heat is inseminated each day at 12 noon; if the same animal is still in heat later that evening or the following morning, it is inseminated again at 12 noon the next day. The 2022 scanning results were very impressive, with 54 cows holding to the first service, 13 cows holding to the second service and one cow holding to the third service. Two sets of twins were also scanned.

Similarly, for the yearling heifers, 13 held to the first service, seven held to the second service and one heifer held to the third service. Implementing a strict 10-week breeding season has resulted in an average of 8% ‘empty’ cows after this period and, even though this figure may seem relatively high, this process removes non-efficient cows form the herd, with only the top-performing cows remaining.

The replacement heifers calve down at 24 months of age, without having any negative impact on lifetime performance of the cow in the herd or restricting mature cow bodyweight.

Replacement heifers

Previously, Angus and Herford calves were purchased from two dairy farms annually. These were contract reared and arrived at Newford farm two months before their expected calving date. The Newford management team decided the 2023-born replacement heifers would be reared on Newford farm, be artificially inseminated at 14 months and calve at 24 months. In order for a heifer to calve at 24 months, a number of weight targets must be achieved. Table 2 outlines that heifers must be a minimum of 330kg at time of insemination.

Table 2: Replacement heifer calves weight targets

Arrival weightRearing ADGWeanling weight (9-10 weeks)First grazing season ADGHousingFirst winter ADGBulling (April 2024)
60kg 0.7kg 95kg 0.7kg 220kg >0.6kg 330kg

Sire selection

A strict sire selection criteria has been followed since the project commenced and has really benefited the herd in terms of calving ease and slaughter performance. Suitable bulls are identified using the ICBF Active Bull List, entering the information below (criteria for selecting AI sires) into the filter option, which produces a list of suitable sires.

Criteria for selecting AI sires at Newford:

  • 5 Star Terminal index (within & across breed);
  • <8% calving difficulty for mature cows;
  • <5.8% calving difficulty for younger cows;
  • >70% reliability calving difficult;
  • >35kg predicted carcass weight mature cows;
  • >25Kg predicted carcass weight young cows;
  • >1.86 on conformation;
  • <6% calving difficulty for first calvers (beef heifers) - 80% reliability;
  • >25kg predicted carcass weight;
  • Cost of AI straw <€20;
  • >-3 days predicted transmitting ability age of slaughter.

The following bulls are being used for the 2023 breeding season in Newford: Ewdenvale Ivor (for heifers); Gstaad; Garnedd Nelson; Whitecliffe Orwell; Gaggin Power; Lapon; Birchpark Rufus; Grangwood Royal Oak (Table 4).

Table 4: List of bulls used and their details

SireBreedBeef cow calving difficulty (%)PTA carcass (kg)PTA conformationUsage
LM2014 LM 2.5 28.9 2.45 Maiden heifers
LM4851 LM 3.1 28.9 2.85 Young cows
CH4321 CH 4.9 41.5 2.24 Young cows
LM7713 LM 2.4 28.4 2.65 Young cows
LM4366 LM 3.4 42.5 2.31 Mature cows
CH6271 CH 4.8 48.4 2.06 Mature cows
LM7404 LM 3 32 2.19 Mature cows
CH8262 CH 7.2 41.7 2.37 Mature cows

The Newford Farm was established by Teagasc and Dawn Meats, with the support of McDonald's and the Irish Farmers Journal, to demonstrate best practice in sustainable suckler beef production. This article first appeared in the Newford Suckler Open Day book. Access the full book here.