Bovis ISSN 2398-2993

Fertility: beef herd - evaluation

Contributor(s): Jonathan Statham , Neil Paton

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Introduction

  • Beef herd fertility performance is determined by both male and female performance success and by nutritional, genetic and herd health factors.
  • The key drivers of profitability in a beef suckler enterprise are:
    • Fertility performance.
    • Growth rates of calves.
    • Marketing/carcass quality.
  • Fertility performance remains potentially the biggest driver of beef production and therefore profitability:
    • In a 100-cow herd, increasing the number of calves reared per 100 cows put to the bull by just 2% could increase calf sales by £1,000–£1,200 per year.
    • Increasing weaning weights by 10kg for every calf would increase output by almost £2,000 (assuming batch weaning at the end of the growing season, this is driven by fertility performance as early born calves on average weigh more at weaning as they have more days to grow).
    • Relatively small improvements can make a significant difference to the bottom line.
  • Reducing calving spread through good fertility performance is an effective way of increasing herd output and has many management advantages. A compact calving pattern will deliver:
    • More weight of calf per cow mated.
    • More efficient use of labor.
    • Calves of uniform size for marketing.
    • Cows at a similar stage in the production cycle for efficient feeding management.
    • Cows at a similar age for minimizing disease risks associated with mixed age groups (eg respiratory disease).
    • Batch management of vaccination and worming etc reducing the risk of missed administration.
  • Evaluating herd fertility requires good recording and benchmarking of performance may be useful to highlight issues that would benefit from attention.
  • Fertility evaluation is discussed in more detail below, but in general:
    • For maximum efficiency, suckler cows should produce one calf per year. An aspirational  target is 95 calves/100 cows/year; but more realistically 90 calves/100 cows/year.
    • To maintain a calving interval of 365 days cows must conceive within 75-80 days post-calving.  
    • The majority of cows will begin cycling by 40 days post-calving, giving them a further 40 days in which to hold to service.
    • A calving period of longer than 12 weeks increases the likelihood of the herd calving interval going beyond 365 days.  
    • A target calving period of 9 weeks (3 bulling cycles), with at least 65 % of the cows in the herd calving within the first 21 days of this period is achievable.
  • Beef herd fertility management can be described as a five point plan to manage beef cow herd productivity:
    • Point 1: ‘Heifer management’.
    • Point 2: ‘Bulls: soundness and fertility’.
    • Point 3: ‘Manage cow-condition and fertility’.
    • Point 4: ‘Avoid difficult calvings’.
    • Point 5: ‘Maintain herd health’.
  • These points outline the key steps to management of reproductive performance and are described in more detail in Fertility: beef herd - management.

Evaluating female performance

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Evaluating male performance

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Evaluating herd health

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Troubleshooting-identifying problems

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Penny C (2009) The development of a UK bull breeding soundness evaluation certificate. Cattle Practice 17, 64-70 VetMedResource.
  • Borsberry S (2007) Common causes of Infertility/Poor Productivity in Suckler Herds and an Introduction into the Analysis of Suckler Performance. Cattle practice 15 (2), 130-137 VetMedResource.
  • Caldow G, Riddell I, Stuart H & Lowman B (2007) Improving efficiency of the beef cow herd. Cattle practice 15 (2), 138-144.
  • Lowman B (2004) Estimated breeding values for beef cattle. In Practice 26 (4), 206-211.
  • McGowan M (2004) Approach to conducting bull breeding soundness examinations. In Practice 26 (9), 485-491 VetMedResource.
  • McGowan M (2001) Bull selection & management-the veterinarians role. Cattle Practice 9, 173-178 VetMedResource.
  • Lowman B (1988) Suckler cow management. In Practice 10, 91-100.

Other sources of information

  • Borsberry S (2004) Herd fertility management: beef herds. In: Bovine medicine –diseases & husbandry of cattle. 2nd edn. Blackwell Publishing. pp 652-662.
  • Caldow G (2004) Biosecurity, does it have a place in the management of beef herds in the United Kingdom? Proceedings of the British Cattle Breeders Club. (Digest 59). pp 13-16.
  • Logue D N & Crawshaw W M  (2004) Bull Infertility. In: Bovine Medicine – diseases & husbandry of cattle. 2nd edn. Blackwell Publishing. pp 594-626.
  • AHDB [online]. Beef manual 8 optimising beef suckler herd fertility. Website: beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk. Last accessed 4th May 2018.


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