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Rigorous Heifer Health Regime Key To High Conception Rates

30 July 2013

Quality Meat Scotland

Conception rates have been poor across Scotland recently, but George and Fiona Gordon say that having health as a priority has helped conception rates in their cross bred Limousine herd in the highlands.

Conception rate is key to the success of the highest gross margin enterprise on the Cairngorms monitor farm – the sale of calved heifers with young calves at foot, write member of the team at Quality Meat Scotland.

The Cairngorms monitor farm, one of the network of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) monitor farms throughout Scotland, is run by George and Fiona Gordon and their son Charles.

The family farm a total of 1,157 acres (468.23 ha), based around their home farm Lost, in Strathdon, 45 miles west of Aberdeen. They run a suckler herd totalling 110 cows, with split calvings – spring and autumn.

In addition to replacements for themselves, they select a further 20 home-bred heifers, which are supplemented with 60 additional bulling heifers, purchased by Charles Gordon at local store auctions.

The 80 heifers form two separate groups of 40 with one group calved in early spring and the other in mid to late summer. The continental calved heifers are sold with two or three month old Limousin-sired calves at foot at Thainstone mart.

"The policy is to blood test the heifers for BVD and Johne’s on arrival. At the same time as the bloods are taken, the heifers also receive their first vaccinations for BVD and Leptospirosis"
David Miskelly - Woodside Veterinary Group

All breeding females, home-bred and purchased, have a high percentage of Simmental blood.
On a straight comparison of purchase against sale price, there is a considerable margin. At the recent monitor farm meeting Charles Gordon reported to the community group that heifers sold with calf at foot in early May, had averaged £2,650, with the top price being £3,450 for an Orkney-bred heifer with a bull calf at foot.

The group also saw the most recently purchased 30 heifers, along with ten home-bred females, running with a Limousin bull. Charles Gordon commented: “The average price we paid was £1,340 and the average age of the purchased heifers was 20 – 21 months, with the youngest, 17 months old.”

The community group had previously seen the Limousin bull which was running with these heifers at last year’s monitor farm open day, held in mid-October. At the time, as a recently purchased 25-month-old, he was running with 40 bulling heifers.

Conception rate determines success or failure in the Gordon family’s heifer enterprise.

At the last meeting, the group were shown the fruits of the Limousin bull’s autumn (2012) work. Of the 40 heifers he ran with, 37 were in-calf, and due to start calving in mid-July. “When they were pregnancy diagnosed, we discovered two freemartins and one heifer wrong inside,” explained Charles Gordon. “So every heifer capable of conceiving is in calf.”

Recent conception rates of both heifers and cows in many Scottish herds, including some monitor farms, have been disappointing. The Gordon family’s heifers achievement of such excellent conception rates, can be attributed to many factors, but cattle health is a priority.

The health status of many of the purchased heifers is unknown, so on arrival at Lost, they are subjected to a health routine. “They’re health tested to the hilt!” said Charles Gordon.

Farm vet David Miskelly of The Woodside Veterinary Group at Torphins explained. “The policy is to blood test the heifers for BVD and Johne’s on arrival. At the same time as the bloods are taken, the heifers also receive their first vaccinations for BVD and Leptospirosis, which means one less handling in the future. Any which fail their blood tests are culled.”

Internal and external parasites are carefully and routinely controlled. Trace elements are also high on the health priority list.

“Donside soils are notorious for their lack of selenium and copper and excessive molybdenum,” explained Mr Miskelly. “So the heifers receive a slow release bolus which supplements copper, iodine, selenium and cobalt and helps to counter the high level of molybdenum.

“Approximately a month before they start calving, the heifers get pre-calver tubs, high in trace elements, including selenium, iodine and cobalt, to give the calves a boost in the last weeks of gestation and hopefully some vigour when born.

“By BVD tissue tag testing the young calves, a clear result quickly confirms the status of both calf and dam prior to sale.”

Scotland is officially free of bTB (Bovine Tuberculosis). However, the Gordon’s heifer enterprise is classed as a “flying” herd, so the heifers are annually TB tested, usually around the end of the year.


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