As the project has progressed, the data available to us on the programme farms has grown. Recently, we took a new look at some of the calving data from the six herds.
A quick recap of the calving targets for the herds in the project:
The Biffen familyOne spring-calving block.Heifers calved at two.
The Duffus family bull their Highland heifers at three years old.
The Duffus familySpring and autumn calving.Heifers calved at two.Highland hill heifers calved at three.
The Duguid family have made a concerted effort to reduce the average age of first calving on their farm.
The Duguid familySpring and autumn calving.Heifers are mainly bought-in and calve anywhere between two and three.
The Gammie familyMainly spring-calving, with some pedigrees calving in the autumn.Varying age at first calving due to pedigree status and some being used as embryo recipients.
Mark MacKay and Robert Gilchrist in Caithness. Mark calves in spring and summer.
The MacKay familySpring and summer calving.Heifers calved at two.
The Webster familyWinter and spring calving.Heifers mainly calved at three for sale, with calves at foot.
When we look at the age that heifers first calve in the herds each year, we find that in 2016, the 55 first-calving heifers calved at an average age of 33.45 months. In comparison, the most recent 123 spring-calving heifers calved for the first time at 28.51 months. This is a reduction of five months.
Those five months represent a reduction in dry matter intake to first calving of 1.8t for each heifer, or 219t across the batch. At an average dry matter value of £85 per tonne, this is a saving of £153 per heifer, or £18,662 in the cost of heifer development across the project.
One of the key arguments for calving heifers later is that they are bigger, so there will be less calving problems. However, when reading through the Beef Efficiency Scheme diaries on the farm, we find that assisted calvings reduced from 12.4% of calvings in 2017 to 5.3% of calvings in 2019. On one project farm, total caesareans have reduced from four or five per year to one in 2019.
Between reducing the age at first calving and improving the health status of the herd, the six farms have reduced their costs by £38,809
This is more evident in the vet and medicine costs for the herds. In 2016, the benchmark data showed an average vet and medicine cost per cow of £76. In 2019, this had reduced by 42%, to an average of £45 per cow.
This represents a further cost reduction of £20,147 for the programme farmers. Between reducing the age at first calving and improving the health status of the herd, the six farms have reduced their costs by £38,809.
Thanks to the varying ages of the bought-in heifers the Duguids have been calving, they have been able to look at the survivability of those cows in the herd and have found that most of those that calved at higher ages lasted a shorter time in the herd.
The five month reduction in days to first calving also represents a saving of 805kg of CO2 equivalent for each heifer. Across the group, this represents a reduction in emissions of 99t of CO2 equivalent. This is often the case – in increasing the financial profitability of the herd, the CO2 of the herd also reduces. This leads to the win/win situation of improved profitability and improved environmental sustainability.
In 2017, 82% of calvings took place in the core spring and autumn calving months of March to June and October to December
One of the other interesting pieces of data is the tightening of the calving periods. In 2017, 82% of calvings took place in the core spring and autumn calving months of March to June and October to December. In 2019, this had increased to 90% of all calvings occurring within the standard pattern. Most of the calvings outside these months, were designed to be there, for instance the Websters’ heifers that were calving in January. While it is outside the desired pattern, in order to have a calf ready for selling at her side in May, they need their heifers to calve in January and February.
Even with these outliers in the data, the total number of days calving have been reduced by 20 through the year, all coming from the months of July, August and September – months that the farms wouldn’t normally calve in. In 2017, 10% of all calvings occurred in these months. In 2019, this had fallen to 3%.
While it is difficult to quantify how this affects the bottom line, it is not difficult to quantify how it affects the farmer’s lifestyle. Fewer days of calving means fewer nights of lost sleep!