The breeding season has begun, or will do soon, in autumn calving suckler herds.
Just like in the dairy herd, cows need to be in a positive energy state in order to increase the likelihood of a successful insemination.
Cows in negative energy show poorer signs of heat, have shorter heats, and don’t go in calf as easy.
Suckler Cow Nutrition
As with all diets, it is important to know the quality of your base forage, which will be grass silage on most farms.
In my travels, I often hear of farms who feed no concentrates to their sucklers rearing calves. This is not a problem if the silage is of good enough quality. Make sure it is of sufficient quality, before making that decision.
A suckler cow needs enough energy to produce sufficient milk of good quality to feed the calf, while also maintaining her own condition. Any remaining energy will be required to go back in calf.
If a suckler cow is losing excessive condition after calving, she is in negative energy, and fertility will suffer. Apart from supplying energy, any concentrates fed to the cow rearing a calf will also supply a source of the minerals which are also required to improve reproductive function.
If you are feeding only straight silage to cows, consider a mineral bolus, or top dress with a mineral.
Don’t forget the suckler cow in your dosing plan. Get animals dosed as soon as it is appropriate to do so, and make sure that you use the products that are most effective for the target parasites. There is little point in getting your feeding strategy right if your cows are losing condition due to a significant parasite burden.
Heat Detection and Breeding Records
Good heat detection is an important element of good fertility in any herd. Keep a record of any heats you see, regardless of if you are using AI or a stock bull. This will allow you to identify cows not cycling.
The use of heat detection aids such as tail paint and scratch pads are very useful. Identifying cows that are not bulling will allow you to do something about it. These cows can be scanned to identify any issues they may have, such as uterine infections or damage caused by a previous calving, which may have gone unnoticed.
If a significant number of cows are not cycling, don’t ignore the possibility that their nutrition may not be up to scratch.
The type of bull you use should be determined by the target market you have for your progeny.
Study the figures, when using AI. If you intend on selling the weanlings, select bulls that will deliver a high weaning weight.
If you intend on finishing the cattle, you need to select bulls with high carcass weights and good conformation.
Take care that you choose bulls appropriate for your type of cows.
Calving difficulty figures should be taken into consideration during bull selection. For part-time suckler farmers there is little point in selecting bulls with excellent carcass characteristics, if the calves are hard to pull, and you are not always present at the births.
Many with stock bulls have a tendency to leave him do all the hard work.
Make sure that he is fit for the job. If you notice a lot of cows repeating after natural service, investigate any possible causes, sooner rather than later. Get the bull fertility tested, if in doubt. Keep an eye on the bull’s feet and legs, particularly if they are on slats.
Younger lighter bulls are often better suited to serving cows indoors, because they are less likely to be hurt.
If you have bought a new bull, make sure that he is vaccinated for everything that you vaccinate your herd for.
If you have a large number of cows to serve, make sure that you have enough bull power! Where possible, alternate bulls to reduce fatigue from over work.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved