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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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What you need to have in order for autumn breeding on your suckler farm

In this news article on That’s Farming, Dominic Mason, CAFRE Beef & Sheep Advisor, looks at autumn breeding within the suckler herd.

Many autumn herds will now be slowing down on calving, with the next task in hand being that of the breeding season, writes Dominic Mason, CAFRE Beef & Sheep Advisor.

No matter whether you are spring/summer or autumn calving, breeding is a critical period for any suckler enterprise.

So, what determines reproductive efficiency within the suckler cow?

  1. The interval between calving and the return to normal heats;
  2. Heat detection efficiency, especially where Artificial Insemination (AI) is used;
  3. Overall conception rate per service.

As seen above, for the breeding season to be a success this autumn, many things must be correct and in order.

These parameters must be monitored to ensure the suckler cow returns to normal heats, and so, keeping the calving interval of that cow and the overall herd at an acceptable level for your business.

On average, the time from calving to first heat in suckler cows is 50+ days.

Many factors can influence this time for the better or the worse, but ultimately, for everyone, we aim to have a cow calving every 365 days where possible.


Nutrition, once calved, again is of paramount importance, especially where you have first-calved cow-heifers, older cows, or those with multiple births, as requirements for maintenance, growth and production of milk will be different for each.

Make sure to have silage analysed.  Silage produced throughout 2022 is of varying quality, and autumn-calving cows need quality silage.

Aim to feed these cows 70 D Value silage where possible on an adlib basis.

Where this silage quality is not available, discuss further with your nutritionist and top up with concentrates on the back of your silage analysis results.

Supplementation, depending on silage analysis, could be in the region of 1kg to 3kgs/head/day until breeding season has finished to maximise conception rates.

Also, if silage reserves are tight, be mindful that feeding 1 kg of concentrate can potentially replace 3-5 of silage depending on the quality and overall dry matter percentage (DM%).

Failure to provide a quality diet at this stage could have detrimental impacts not only on the % of cows in calf at scanning but also on calf performance and overall weaning weights.


Body Condition Score (BCS) at calving is one factor which may influence success at calving and a fast return to heat.

Cows at calving need to be fit, not fat, as overfat or too thin a cow can, in many ways, lead to calving difficulties and, in response, a delayed return to normal heats.

Assess cows according to BCS routinely, aiming to have them in the optimum BCS of 3-3.5, making sure to separate fat cows from thin cows as they will have different feed requirements.

Depending upon breed and mature weight, 1 BCS could be in the region of 75kgs liveweight.

Mineral feeding to calved cows should remain constant at the rate that they received pre-calving, continuing throughout the breeding season.

Depending on the mineral being fed, in most cases, 150g/head/day of a quality powdered mineral is suggested according to supplier guidelines.

This will not only have a positive impact on retained placentas and stronger calves but also stronger signs of heat within the cows as well.

Heat detection

With reference to heat detection, the concept of restricted suckling for a short period between the dam and the calf twice per day can speed up the onset of heat and decrease the days to service.

If practicing, this aim is to commence once the cows are approximately 30 days calved and continue for roughly three weeks.

This practice can also prove beneficial for later-calved cows allowing you to gain back some lost days and tighten up the calving interval.

It is suggested that approximately 85% of these cows will show signs of heat within 2-3 weeks of the first separation.

This is due to decreasing the bond between the cow and calf through sight and smell as well as the suckling effect.

In many cases, it will also have a positive effect in maintaining BCS while possibly reducing silage intake without having a negative effect on calf performance.

Conception rates in the region of 60-70% are more than possible for suckler cows within both natural service and AI.

This, however, is all dependent on semen quality, AI technique and bull fertility, so quality control is important.

Aim to have semen tanks topped up regularly with liquid nitrogen and avoid over-handling to avoid damage to straws.

Be confident in your AI skills and where you feel you are not capable of the job in hand, call in an expert technician to carry out the procedure.

Finally, in the lead-up to the calving season, in preparation for breeding, it may be of benefit to ask your local vet to carry out health and semen checks on your herd bull to assess his ability to serve and conceive.


Pregnancy diagnosis can then be carried out effectively from 40 days onwards after the last service or insemination, so good record-keeping is essential.

This should be something that everyone carries out on-farm no matter what period you are calving down in.

It is at this point that you can see whether your efforts to get cows back in calf have been rewarded with a pregnancy.

However, if a pregnancy has not been successful, you can then decide whether another intervention is required, such as synchronisation of heat to allow the cow to conceive and stay within her current breeding window with an acceptable calving interval.

Top farming tips: 
  • Body Condition Score (BCS) and nutrition are key in determining when a cow will start to show signs of heat post-calving, with the negative effects of both hard to reverse in some cases.
  • Be mindful that silage quality needs to be measured if you want to manage feeding it correctly, allowing you to target certain quality of silage to different groups of cattle depending on their requirements.
  • Post-breeding and once cows have been diagnosed in calf, aim to keep the cows on a settled diet with no major changes to maintain the pregnancy.
  • Artificial Insemination (AI) offers a wide variety of sires allowing you to inseminate your cow to the sire and breed that you feel is best suited. Conception rates are expected to be 60-70% depending on heat detection efficiency, which you would be aiming to be at >70%.
  • Herd bulls would, in most cases, have a higher heat detection rate than that of the average stock person, in turn, catching more heats (target of close to 100%). However, compactness of both conception and subsequent calving will be determined by the conception rates once the cows are cycling.

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