Feeding For Autumn Breeding In The Suckler Herd

Autumn-calving suckler and dairy herds will start breeding soon. In dairy herds, as cows will be fed for milk performance, these generally go back in calf quite efficiently as they are on the same diet each day and their performance, yield and solids are being monitored closely. However, in suckler herds, there can be a lot more variation in the plain of nutrition. 

Most suckler herds are in for almost four weeks at this point and are well settled indoors. Setting up an appropriate diet for them to feed their calf and go back in calf quickly will obviously be based on available silages and minerals, plus concentrates will be required in most herds.

In preparation for breeding, it is also important to get other tasks such as tail clipping, dosing, de-licing and hoof care are done before AI begins or the bull is introduced. On the home farm, we plan to start breeding next week and have cows settled on their winter diet before we start. That will have the first calves on the ground at the end of August.

One fly in the ointment for this plan is the infinite wisdom of the ICBF to come out with a completely new breeding index on November 21, meaning that we could have straws in the flask that have totally different stars to what they have as I write! As a result, I will hold off on buying all my straws until after that date. I have some from last season to kick off breeding.

Accurate heat detection is such an important part of good fertility in any herd. If you don’t submit a cow to AI or to the bull, she can’t go in calf.

Suckler Feeding Indoors

It is important to know the quality of your silages. If you plan to feed no concentrates to suckler cows rearing calves, then this is not a problem and a great cost saving if the silage is on or above 70 DMD. 

Silage below this quality will require supplementation and in reality, a huge proportion of 2023 silages are well off that mark. Suckler cows need sufficient energy to produce enough milk of good quality to rear 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 will be in a negative energy and fertility will suffer as a result. Cows in negative energy show poorer signs of heat, will tend to have shorter heats and as a rule of thumb don’t go in-calf as easily.

While supplying energy any concentrates fed to the cow rearing a calf will also supply a source of essential minerals and vitamins required to improve reproduction. If you are only feeding silage to cows, you will need to feed post-calver minerals at a minimum.

Heat Detection – A Key Part Of Fertility Performance

Accurate heat detection is such an important part of good fertility in any herd. If you don’t submit a cow to AI or to the bull, she can’t go in calf!

Keep good records of any heats you see regardless of if you are using AI or a stock bull. One of the main purposes of this should be to allow you to identify cows which are not cycling and are in need of intervention. 

“Heat detection aids such as Tail Paint and Scratch Pads are every bit as useful indoors as they are outdoors. Vasectomised bulls are also an excellent heat detection aid and are becoming more popular in suckler herds using AI, apart from the fact that they are another animal to be feeding through the winter”. 

A growing number of suckler herds continue to introduce heat and health monitoring systems to help with heat detection, particularly for those working off-farm and still wishing to use AI. 

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 the pre or post-calving nutrition may not be what is required.

AI Bull Selection

The sires you use for your herd should be determined by the target market you have for your progeny along with your requirement for calving ease depending on how hands-on you can be around calving. With the SCEP scheme over the coming years having higher requirements for 4 and 5-star females, then breeding decisions must continue to be made with these requirements in mind. 

As I write, with the new index soon to be released, these decisions are unfortunately all up in the air for us autumn-calvers. Apart from that issue, if you intend to sell 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. Choose bulls appropriate for your cow type. Calving difficult figures should always be taken into consideration during bull selection”.

Continental genetics generally have a longer gestation length, so starting a little earlier is required to achieve the target of 1 calf per cow per year. Cows and heifers need to be in a positive energy status in order to achieve an acceptable conception rate.

Stock Bull Fitness

If you are running stock bulls for indoor breeding, are they fit for the job? If you notice a lot of cows repeating after three weeks from 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 get injured. 

If you have purchased a new bull, make sure that he is vaccinated for everything that you vaccinate your herd for before introducing him to the herd. 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 and injury from overwork.

  • Brian Reidy is an independent ruminant nutritionist at Premier Farm Nutrition.

(Source – Irish Examiner – Farming – Brian Reidy – 15/11/2023)

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