I try and weigh my cows at least once a year, usually in or around weaning, to give an indication of how the cows are performing.
Among a number of things, weighing allows me to compare cows of similar weights to see which is producing the heaviest and best calves.
Over the years, I have been trying to reduce the weight of my cows, although there are a lot of other farmers who would not agree with this approach.
My thinking is that the smaller cows will be a lot easier on the ground and do a lot less damage in wet conditions.
However, others will insist that the bigger cow will wean a bigger calf and will be worth a lot more at slaughter.
I accept that she will be worth more when culled (up to £300) but if you spread this over the lifetime of the cow, it’s only a very small amount per year and undoubtedly, she will have spent a lot more of her time at a feeding trough.
As for weaning a bigger calf, this is definitely not always the case.
My aim is to have the average cow weight across my herd of between 600kg-650kg, and this is generally where I am.
Last year’s average was 636kg and this year they are at 655kg. This is slightly more than I want, but it has been a good summer and cows are in better condition than previous years, so can afford to be thinned down a little over the winter.
But as usual, averages do not tell the full story, and there is a variation across the herd of over 300kg.
I have cows just over 500kg and cows over 800kg. I have been trying to reduce this range, but there’s still a lot of work to do.
My thinking is that I can keep three 600kg cows in place of two 900kg cows. Same weight on the ground, but spread over 12 feet instead of eight.
As an example, I have two cows that I did not breed because they were too big. One was 950kg and the other was 880kg. Between them, they weaned two good 300kg calves (600kg in total).
On the other hand, I have three cows averaging 600kg, which weaned three calves at 250kg, 265g and 275kg (790kg in total).
That is an extra 190kg, which is worth another £500 or more, in any mart. It makes such financial sense that I can’t understand why some farmers don’t see it.
Maybe it’s because they are making too much money and don’t need any more.
Even though I am trying hard to keep my cow size down, the previous example shows that some cows are still too big, despite breeding all my heifers to calve at two years of age or slightly less.
The number of farmers that say they can’t do this astounds me. Some will say that they won’t grow if you calve at two years, while others maintain that they can’t get them back in-calf.
Down through the years, I have had issues with both, and I have found that it all comes down to genetics and nutrition. If I can get it right, there is no issue with calving heifers at two years of age.
The two heavy cows that I have culled this year both calved at two years of age and had a calf every year. It certainly didn’t stop them growing.
However, on a wider point, there seems to be an obsession among some suckler farmers with size.
I see some online sales of in-calf heifers and I just cannot understand what is going on. There are heifers approaching three years of age, maybe weighing 800kg, and only carrying their first calf.
On top of that, they are making between £2,500 and £3,000.
It is nonsensical. There is not a decent cow maker among them.
I think it’s time that farmers take a long hard look at their breeding herds and only keep the ones that can make them money, instead of big fancy cows that are destroying their ground.