Breeding season in autumn calving suckler herds

December is upon us and, 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 positive energy 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.

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 in the weeks before you commence breeding, 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. Many are now using vasectomised bulls in suckler herds. 

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 from a previous calving which may have gone unnoticed.

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 suckler’s indoors while they are rearing calves. 

Not a problem if silage is of good quality.

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 for her to go back in calf. 

If a suckler cow is losing excessive condition post calving she is in negative energy and fertility will suffer. Sufficient protein is key to encourage cow’s appetite. 

Apart from supplying energy any concentrates fed to the cow rearing a calf will also supply a source of minerals required to improve reproductive function. 

If you are only feeding straight silage to cows consider a mineral bolus and/or top dress with a mineral. The mineral status of silages this year are poor so supplementation is essential to boost animal performance.

Parasite control

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.

Bull selection

For the 24,000 or so taking part in the BDGP scheme this is a very important process to get right. 

The type of bull you use should be determined by the target market you have for your progeny, along with your replacement policy. 

Study the figures when using AI. If you intend selling the weanlings, select bulls that will deliver a high weaning weight. If you intend on finishing the cattle, select bulls with high carcass weights, good conformation. 

Choose bulls appropriate for your type of cows.

Consider calving difficult figures during bull selection.

Stock bull

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 as they are less likely to be hurt.

If you have bought a new bull make sure that he is vaccinated for everything you vaccinate your herd for. If you have a large number of cows to serve make sure you have enough bull power! If possible, alternate bulls so as to reduce fatigue from over-work.


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