Managing Calving Patterns and Suckler Herd Fertility

UK - Achieving a compact calving period of 12 weeks can have a significant impact on beef producers’ margins, according to the latest advice from EBLEX.
calendar icon 12 June 2013
clock icon 2 minute read

EBLEX calculations show that calving periods that extend beyond 12 weeks cost producers in the region of £3.35 per day in feed costs for the empty cow and lost income from calf growth.

A compact calving period also has multiple management benefits, including simpler cow and calf management, increased weaning weights, reduced production costs, fewer calf health problems and less labour required during calving.

A strict compact calving period also means that the calving interval (the number of days between each calf) for any cow remains near the target of 365 days.

The length of the calving season is easily calculated by counting the number of days or weeks between the first and last calf being born. EBLEX Business Pointers data for 2012 shows that the average calving period for lowland and Less Favoured Area (LFA) suckler herds was 21 weeks, compared with the 12 week target. Reducing a calving period from 21 to 12 weeks can increase revenue from extra weaning weight by over £2000 for a 50 cow herd.

Being strict about taking the bull out of the heifer/cow groups is the key to a compact calving period. Keeping only those heifers or cows that get in calf quickly will help breed higher levels of fertility into the breeding herd.

Also, the aim should be to calve heifers down early in the calving period to give them slightly longer to recover after their first calving before the next breeding season.

Culling those late calving cows and bringing in more heifers that calve early in the calving season is the best way to reduce the length of your calving period. By mating more heifers than you need, only those that get in calf in the first six weeks of the breeding season can be kept, again selecting highly fertile replacement females for the herd.

As well as the length of the calving period, it is worth thinking about the number of calves produced from the females that were put to the bull. Just counting the number of calves born in itself is not a very useful figure, as this needs to be related to the cost of producing them, which is largely accounted for by the breeding herd.

A simple way of doing this is by calculating the number of calves produced per 100 heifers and cows put to the bull, aiming for a target of 95 calves born per 100 females put to the bull. For example, 55 calves from 60 cows and heifers, equals 92 calves produced per 100 females put to the bull.

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