A new guide produced by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) highlights key steps Scottish farmers can take to improve the fertility of their herds, and the profitability of their businesses.
“A Guide to Improving Suckler Herd Fertility” has been produced by QMS to help farmers assess their herds’ performance and identify areas for improvement. The guide contains several case studies and suggestions to help farmers boost the fertility of their herds and ultimately the bottom line of their businesses.
“Achieving optimum performance for your beef enterprise has never been more important,” said Doug Bell, QMS Head of Industry Development.
“Managing and improving the fertility of your suckler herd is one of the key ways to improve cow margins and hence business profitability.”
The new guide includes practical steps farmers can take to boost the productivity of their herds.
The topics covered include: the management of bulling heifers; targeting cow condition throughout the year; avoiding difficult calvings; careful bull selection and management and maintaining good herd health status. All of these can have an important influence on overall herd fertility.
“With most herds calving in the spring, now is the time for cattle farmers to use this guide as a really useful tool to assess how their herd has performed and identify possible improvements for the future,” added Mr Bell.
The Guide includes several farmer case studies to illustrate the opportunities to improve herd fertility. Among those featuring in the case studies are Alex and Ross King, from Wolfstar in East Lothian.
Together, the father and son team run 150 commercial cows and 40 pedigree Simmentals on permanent pasture on their mainly arable unit near Ormiston. Cows are Simmental and Aberdeen Angus crosses, with Simmental and Aberdeen Angus bulls criss-crossed to provide replacements with strong maternal characteristics.
“The beef herd is managed to fit in with arable work, so we have a tight nine-week bulling period which gives us a compact calving in the late Spring.” said Ross King.
“We group our cows according to condition or age, and their diets are controlled and cow condition monitored to avoid overfit or over thin cows from weaning to calving.
He added: “We have a strict culling policy and cows that fail to carry a calf are not retained in the breeding herd.”
The heaviest heifers are selected for breeding at turnout. They have a 10-month target weight of 380kg and a target gain of 0.9kg/day in their first winter. Any surplus heifers are sold for breeding and steers are finished at 13-14 months on an adlib concentrate diet.
The Kings aim for breeding heifers to weigh around 450kg at bulling, which hits the 65% of mature target weight.
A lot of emphasis is put into bull selection at Wolfstar. Bulls are selected on growth rates and muscle but also for maternal traits. All bulls are examined and semen tested each year reducing the risk of a sub-fertile bull compromising the calving pattern. The herd health records of any bulls bought in are checked to ensure that the farm’s high herd health status is maintained.