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HomeFarming News‘The notion that calving at 22-26 months will stunt their growth is...
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‘The notion that calving at 22-26 months will stunt their growth is simply not true’

In this article, Aidan Murray, Teagasc beef specialist, discusses calving heifers at 22-26 months and six-week calving rates.

The ICBF 5 Year Trend Report, as the name suggests, tracks the performance of an individual’s herd on 6 Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) over the last five years.

The actual herd performance is then compared with the national average and with the top 10% for each KPI.

The report lists KPIs:
  1. Replacement index (cows);
  2. Replacement index (first-calvers);
  3. Herd calving interval;
  4. Calves per cow per year;
  5. Heifers calved at 24-months;
  6. Six-week calving rate.

Some of the KPIs, such as replacement index for cows and first-calvers, have shown a gradual improvement since 2016. First-calvers are showing the most significant improvement increasing from €72 to €87.

Six weeks calving rate also improved slightly, going from 51% to 53%. Other KPIs such as calving interval, calves/cow/year and heifers calved at 22-26 months have bounced around over the last five years, and progress has been relatively flat.

For example, it is noticeable how calving interval was lowest in 2016 at 392 days it peaked in 2019 at 402 days and dropped to 395 days in 2020.

Furthermore, one of those KPIs that is likely to continue to bounce around at the national average level as it is impacted by environmental factors, the drought of 2018, impacted on the 2019 figure.

However, two KPIs that I think we can and should look to work on are heifers calving at 22-26 months and six-week calving rate. With good management and planning, you can improve both.

Calving heifers at 22-26 months

Heifers calving at 22-26 months is taboo with many farmers, while other farmers regularly achieve this.

Concerns centre around too small at bulling, too difficult to calf, they won’t calve down again as second calvers, or it will stunt them.

Let us take a look at some of the arguments. Firstly, we are not asking people to take a step into the unknown.

The blueprints are there in terms of target bulling weights, weight at first calving etc. If you can have heifers at 60% of their mature weight at bulling, they are on target.

So, a mature cow weight of 700kg will need heifers to be around 420kgs at bulling. The notion that calving at 22-26 months will stunt their growth is simply not true.

Time and time again, at open days and farm walks, Teagasc has demonstrated heifers that have calved at 2-years-old have matured into 700kg plus cows, and they can calve down again as second, third and fourth calvers.

Image credit: Tricia Kennedy

Improve costs 

I do have to concede, though, that heifers are more troublesome at calving. However, that is true of all heifers, as ICBF figures have shown.

It is not uncommon that over 50% of all heifers calving need some assistance at calving irrespective of their age at first calving.

But we have a level of control here by having them sufficiently well grown at calving, but more importantly, we breed them to the correct bull. We need to use proven easy-calving bulls with no greater heifer calving difficulty than 7.5%.

Also, we need to keep heifer condition up after calving, particularly if they are housed for several weeks before going to grass, so supplementation will be needed.

It is one of those KPIs that will improve overall costs and will deliver on environmental efficiencies.

So, if you go out to look at your yearling heifers, ask yourself are any of them on target to reach the targeted bulling weight by early May? Should I push them on a bit more while they are housed? or better still, how quickly can I get them to grass?

Six-week calving rate

In spring-calving herds, only 53% of cows are calving in the first six weeks, with the top 10% of herds achieving over 90 -95%.

It might seem a bit daunting to have a large number of cows calving in such a short space of time.

If you have reasonable facilities, it can be done, and bear in mind our average herd size is only around 18 cows.

If you are working part-time, it can often make more sense to do it this way as it will streamline your labour demands around calving and, subsequently, when it comes to dehorning and dosing stock.

For every weanling producer, it will mean heavier calves at sale time. Every month earlier that the calf is on the ground before sale time gives you an extra 30-40kgs live-weight to go to the ring with.

If you are interested in improving any of these KPIs, it is well worth discussing with your advisor about the practical steps you should take.

Further reading 

Furthermore, last week, Martina Harrington, Teagasc beef specialist discusses increasing profits on suckler farms – you can read that here.

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