Advice for beef farmers: Don’t cull the wrong sucklers

Key features of running an efficient suckler herd include good breeding management and herd fertility.

Having a clearly defined calving period, with the objective of targeting a 365-day calving interval, 12-week calving season, and limiting calf mortality rate to under 2.5% are very important in optimising farm output and the overall profitability of your suckler herd.

Culling and replacement of suckler cows is a hugely important aspect in maintaining an efficient suckler herd.

The decision to cull cows can often be very difficult; however it is a necessary task, in order to maximise herd productivity and output.

Between 15% and 20% of suckler cows should be culled annually.

The main reasons for culling are:

* Fertility/failure to go in calf: Should not be more than 5% due to natural infertility. More than 5% suggests that there is a fertility problem in the herd;

* Health/disease problems: Feet/legs, persistent lameness, mastitis, damaged teats, injury, persistent calving problems, problem with pin bones etc. Cows tested PI for BVD/Johne’s disease/Neosporosis should be culled;

* Docility/bad temperament: Especially after calving. Cows showing prolonged calving aggression (longer than a few days) should be culled once their calf has been weaned. Other cows that are difficult to handle/dangerous should be considered for culling;

* Poor milkers: Reflected in poor calf growth rates.

* Old age: When the cow is no longer able to physically bear and nourish a calf.

* Poor quality progeny: Cows which consistently produce calves of poorer quality and daily live weight gains compared to the average in the herd.

Sales of cull cows make a major contribution to cash flow on many suckler farms.

Some planning is needed in order to maximise the income from cull cows, important decisions need to be made in relation to the best time to sell cull cows and/or to sell them live or finish them.

The outcome of this process will be largely influenced by cow condition, fodder availability, housing facilities, concentrate prices and current cull cow market.

ICBF Herd Plus

Herd Plus is ICBF’s breeding information service; it offers a range of management tools and reports to its members to help make more informed breeding decisions.

Data enters the ICBF database from quite a number of sources such as slaughter information from meat factories, cattle marts, AI companies and farmers records.

This performance data is processed and genetic indexes are created.

Herd Plus makes this information available to its members through user friendly reports such as the ‘Calving Report’ and ‘Suckler Cow Report’. These reports are valuable tools available to members, and will help identify cows for culling.

The Suckler Cow Report provides a unique performance report on each cow in your herd. This report provides all the data of importance to the farmer in one place and on one page.

They are most effective, when used in combination with your own practical experiences of each individual cow on the ground, and can assist you in monitoring each cow’s performance more closely.

This report enables comparisons to be made between individual cows in the herd, based on their calving and fertility performance over the years. This report can also be used to assess your herd’s performance against others in a discussion group, monitor farms, or national averages.

Information that can be assessed includes individual cow calving survey data and calving interval information, helping to identify cows that have extended calving interval, which can reinforce any doubts you may have about certain cows that are less productive in the herd.

Detailed information in relation to each individual cow in terms of her progeny performance is also available on the suckler cow report.

This information includes weight gain/day, calf quality and docility data, and slaughter information such as age at slaughter, carcass conformation, fat score and carcass weight.

The more data that you submit to ICBF, the more accurate the €uro-Star figures will become.

The effort put into gathering information such as calf weights, correct birth dates, sires, calving difficulty data and health recording will all pay dividends in the years to come as accuracy figures increase.

Hence, the more useful the suckler cow report will be in helping you make better informed breeding decisions on your farm.


Ovarian cancer has been dubbed ‘the silent killer’. Christina Henry tells Rowena Walsh why she is one of the lucky onesAgeing with attitude: Life after ovarian cancer

More From The Irish Examiner