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Beef Farmers Should Identify Opportunities to Improve Herd Fertility

03 September 2013

Scottish suckler herds are missing out on £3,850 each year through herd fertility issues, a new guide has revealed.

“A Guide to Improving Suckler Herd Fertility” has been launched today (8 August 2013) by QMS to help producers assess their herd’s performance and identify areas for improvement. The guide, compiled by consultants from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), also provides examples of ideas that can be put into practice on farm.

QMS producer surveys reveal that for every 100 cows and heifers put to the bull, only 87 calves are weaned, compared with the target figure of 94, meaning the average Scottish farmer is missing out on seven calves which could have contributed to their business bottom line.

The average herd rearing 87 per cent calves with a moderate calving spread could gain an extra £35/cow or £3500 per year for a 100 cow herd by rearing an extra seven calves to meet the target of 94 per cent calves reared.

Rearing an extra seven calves and also compacting the calving period could improve income by £86/cow or £8600 per year.

Survey results also reveal that there is a wide variation in performance between producers whose performance ranks them in the top third and those in the bottom third.

"Making management changes to improve herd fertility gives a real opportunity to improve beef enterprise margin without the need to make any major structural changes to their businesses"
Kathy Peebles 

Bottom third farmers produce just 83 calves per 100 cows or heifers, with top third producers achieving 90 calves from every 100 females bulled. Hence a farmer who manages to improve his performance to meet the target 94 per cent calving would produce an extra 11 calves worth around £6,050/year.

“Making management changes to improve herd fertility gives a real opportunity to improve beef enterprise margin without the need to make any major structural changes to their businesses,” said Kathy Peebles, QMS Livestock Development Manager.

“Quality Meat Scotland’s Cattle and Sheep Enterprise costing figures consistently show that the top third of suckler beef producers perform more strongly than others mainly because they have extra calves to sell.”

Farmers can gain an exra £35 per cow if the 94 per cent target is reached.

Improving suckler herd fertility will result in benefits at later stages from the uniformity of the cattle produced, observed Mrs Peebles.

“Tighter calving patterns can also help store cattle producers sell additional batches of calves at slightly higher weights which makes them more attractive to the buyers.

“As a minimum, an average store producer could see extra calf value returns of between £2200 and £6000 per year. Breeder/finishers would also benefit from a tighter calving pattern as more even batches of calves would make feeding regimes easier and less chance of bullying in the groups.

“With the majority of herds calving in the spring, now is the time for cattle farmers to use this guide is an important tool to assess how their herd has performed and identify possible improvements for the future.”

The Guide includes a number of farmer case studies to illustrate the opportunities to improve herd fertility. Among those featuring in the case studies are Fife farmers, James and John Thomson who run a 1450 acre beef and arable unit at Hilton of Beath, Kelty.

The Thomsons herd performance was reviewed by Fertbench – an online suckler herd fertility benchmarking system – developed by consultants from SRUC.

“We found the review of value and it was very useful to have a fresh pair of eyes look at our system,” said John. “We changed the way we fed our spring calvers and found calving a lot easier than the previous few years.”

One of the authors of the guide, Ian Pritchard, Health Schemes Manager, SAC Consulting said: “We are pleased to have been given the opportunity by QMS to produce this guide and believe that it provides the key information required to improve breeding efficiency in Scotland's beef cow herd."
QMS, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and the Scottish Government are running a series of free “Suckler Cow and Bull Management” workshops during August.

The workshops, which will take place at three venues around Scotland, will focus on suckler cow and bull management, health, nutrition and genetics.

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