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Getting Prepared for the Breeding Season

26 April 2019
Type Media Article

By Gabriel Trayers, B&T Adviser, Teagasc, Galway/Clare

With the majority of cows calved at this stage we must turn our attention to ensuring that the herd calves again in the spring of 2020! Cows that you want to calve in February next year will need to be bred shortly in May. It is important to keep focused on the upcoming breeding season and set realistic breeding targets for your farm. One of the main factors affecting the profitability of a suckler herd is its breeding performance. The overall breeding targets of a profitable herd to include; 

  • An average calving interval of 365 days
  • 0.95 calves born per cow to the bull
  • 60% of cows calved in the first month of the calving season
  • All cows calved within 12 weeks
  • Calf mortality <2.5% at birth and < 5% at 28days

Factors influencing breeding performance on farms:  


  • Before the breeding season starts, identify cows that need to be culled and don’t breed them eg late calvers/cows with poor calves/insufficient milk/health problems/tempered/poor fertility.
  • It is important that that you have suitable maternal replacements bred or sourced to replace cows that are culled. These replacements should be your best heifers from the best cows in your herd!
  • Put replacement heifers in calve before the main herd.

Cows Body Condition Score

  • Targets; Condition score at calving needs be a herd average of 3.0 for spring calvers; this allows for 0.5 of a B.C.S loss up to start of breeding season. At the start of the breeding season a cow needs to be on an increasing plain of nutrition with a BCS of 2.5 to give her the best possible chance of going back in calf.
  • Thin Cows; Cows/ Heifers calving in poor condition and or losing excessive weight post-calving will have a delayed return to heat. At this stage, feeding on its own may not solve the problem with thin cows/heifers. In these cases thin cows/ heifers should get 1 to 2kg of a high energy ration. However, in addition to feeding, if possible, restrict suckling of calves in the morning and evening (from 4 weeks of age) This practise helps improve cow’s/ heifers body condition coming into the breeding season and cows will return to the heat cycle quicker.

Having a Defined Breeding Season - Aim to have all cows calved in a 12 week period, i.e. 60% in the first month, 80% calved by end of second month. Have a definite start/end date for the breeding season. For example, a farmer with five month calving spread that has an ultimate target of a three month calving spread for the herd, a simple means of achieving this is to end the breeding season two weeks sooner each year for the next four years.

Calving Difficulty

Difficult calving greatly increases the incidence of reproductive problems in the following breeding season and also reduces calf survival. When selecting sires, a good rule of thumb is to use bulls that are < 5% calving difficulty and high reliability on heifers and < 10% calving difficulty on mature cows. The higher the reliability of a bull the more proven that bull is hence the more confident you can be in his figures.  

Stock Bulls Key Points:

Bull fertility is key to maintaining a compact calving period, maximising the genetic potential and value of the calf crop and overall herd profitability.

  • Bulls fertility status can change, from year to year therefore, it is good practise to have a fertility test carried out on the stock bull, prior to start of breeding season
  • Bulls must be able to maintain body condition score (ideally BCS 3), repeatedly mount and serve cows and place fertile semen in the cow for 12 weeks and have a long working life in the herd.
  • Avoid sudden changes and do not overfeed as this can reduce fertility and lead to feet problems.
  • Check feet and legs well in advance of the breeding season, take remedial action if required.
  • Watch the bull working to check he is serving cows correctly.
  • Rotate bulls or scan cows early so that an infertile bull or sub fertile bull can be identified early.
  • Record when you see a cow being mated and watch for signs of cows coming on heat repeatedly.