How do you manage AI in a 90-cow suckler herd and is it worth it?

Cows and heifers are run in three breeding groups. There are usually two groups of cows and one group of heifers.

This means there are about three groups of 40 animals. This means getting in three groups, but it also means it’s a little easier to filter off a few cows out of a paddock. It is worth it. It allows us to pick bulls for different cows and AI-bred stock attract a premium in the market.

What health treatments are you doing prior to breeding?

All cows receive a booster shot for BVD and leptospirosis a few weeks in advance of breeding. Cows also receive two mineral boluses prior to breeding to make sure there are no issues with mineral deficiencies. Maiden heifers will get two shots of a BVD vaccine and leptospirosis vaccine four weeks apart. This course will be finished two weeks in advance of breeding starting. Heifers will also receive a mineral bolus prior to breeding. Vasectomised bulls will also be vaccinated for BVD and leptospirosis prior to breeding.

Is there a big negative to terminal traits by concentrating on maternal traits?

We haven’t seen a huge negative. In terms of quality, we would probably be seeing more U grading progeny if we were concentrating on terminal traits. We need to be conscious that we are trying to breed a functional cow. Breeding a U grading muscly heifer isn’t the road we are on. We are not seeing any negative in the growth rates of the calves up to weaning, with bull calves consistently gaining over 1.2kg/day and heifer calves above 1.15kg/day. Bull performance has also been good during the finishing phase. The average age at slaughter for the 2019-born bulls was 14.2 months. Average carcase weight was 371kg, with an average carcase grade of U=3-.

What form of heat detection would you recommend for a herd of 18 cows?

Tail paint and a vasectomised bull are probably the two cheapest forms of heat detection you can get. Farm manager Shaun Diver says he wouldn’t dream about artificially inseminating cows without using a vasectomised bull. While we are using Mooheat in Tullamore, those costs would be questionable for a small number of cows, but you have to weigh up the time spent checking heat and possibly missing heats in that. In early calving herds, allowing the calf to suck morning and evening is also a great way of bringing cows back into heat early.

What will you look at in weighing up the sexed semen option?

Number one is will it leave us more money at the end of the day and is it practical for the farm? It would mean grazing an extra 40 to 50 heifers from March to October, so that has to be looked at, but we think the farm would have no problem doing this. It will also mean that in 2023 we wouldn’t have any cattle sales on the farm during the early part of the year, with everything being sold in October, which would put a drain on cashflow. The cost of the semen will also have to be assessed. One of the bulls we are looking at is CWI and the sexed semen is costing €40/straw, €30/straw above what we are currently paying. Reduced conception rates also have to be factored in.

Would you not be better autumn calving, using a Charolais bull and selling weanlings?

The sheds on the farm at the moment don’t lend themselves to autumn calving, as there are no creep areas. Autumn calving also incurs extra costs during the winter months feeding concentrates to both the cow and calf.

While you may get some very good prices for weanlings in summer/early autumn, the costs have to be weighed up as well and we feel we are better to calve to grass and try to utilise as much grass as possible in the cow’s diet to try to keep her as cheaply as we can.