Inefficient calving cycles incur financial losses

By failing to address the issue of long calving intervals, beef farmers in Wales are missing out on over £4,500 per annum for a 40-cow herd.

The latest BCMS (British Cattle Movement Service) data shows that the average calving interval in Wales in 2016 was 428 days, with the optimum interval being 365 days. The most profitable and recommended age for first calving is 24 months, whereas heifers in Wales calved 9 months later at an average age of 33 months. This results in the cows in an average 40-strong suckler herd producing 32 fewer calves over their lifetime. 

This issue was addressed by vet Pete Suddens of Maes Glas Vets during a recent Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) ON-Farm event held at Pencoed Campus, Bridgend College. He encouraged the audience of red meat producers to adopt a compact calving pattern, as a herd of cows at the same stage of pregnancy and lactation will enable farmers to rear even batches of calves and lead to efficient feeding and supervision, as well as thriving calves. He suggested that if this plan is implemented on-farm, herds are more likely to consist of healthy calves with high growth potential, fertile cows for rapid re-breeding and more efficient management and feeding practices.

The key principles of the compact calving system include fertile cows, which can be maximised by good nutritional management; selecting fertile bulls with strong and sound EBVs; a good replacement breeding policy; and avoiding and controlling infectious infertility diseases such as BVD and Johne’s.

Pete Suddens also stated that producers should target 95% of cows put to the bull to rear calves.

HCC’s James Ruggeri, Industry Development Executive said: “Effective management has a significant impact on profitability and major implications on the lifetime productivity of a breeding suckler herd. The cost of production figures show that suckler beef margins are very tight, however, those farmers who focus on effective herd management are the most profitable.

“Despite a four-day reduction in the average calving interval in 2016, this is still very similar to where we were five years ago. There has been a promising increase in the average number of calves per lifetime, from 5.4 to 5.6, but there is still room for improvement. The age at first calving also remains high, which impacts on the age at second calving which is 49 months with an interval of 462 days. This suggests an issue with heifer management which is what vet Pete Suddens addressed during our recent ON-Farm 2017 meeting at Pencoed.

“Earlier calving, giving due consideration to herd management, especially after calving, and ensuring optimum weight or body condition scores will lead to considerable financial gain and improved on-farm efficiencies.”

The ON-Farm meeting was an opportunity to share practical information and advice on key topics which affect the profitability and sustainability of a farming enterprise, including animal health and grassland management. Presentations were delivered by Pete Suddens BVM&S MRCVS, grassland consultant Chris Duller and vet Dr Joe Angell.

Following the event, producer Poppy Evans from Llanbad Fach Farm, Brynna, Pontyclun said: “I picked up lots of new, useful information tonight, with new solutions to new problems within the sector. Farmers are very knowledgeable individuals who learn so much over the years. But by coming to events such as this, we can make sure that we don’t stagnate, and instead keep up to date with the latest developments and learn new things.”

As well as presenting to farmers in the evening, HCC arranged a session for agriculture students from Bridgend College in the afternoon. The food for the evening session, which included new season pulled PGI Welsh Lamb rolls, was prepared by catering students from the college.