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Spare some time for your herd's calving index.

SUCKLER beef profitability could be boosted by tight calving intervals - with a little help from AI and a few extra minutes snatched during busy farming days.

At a time when suckler margins are tight, Farming Connect is urging producers to target the ultimate calving index of 365 days.

At Y Gyrn, a demonstration farm near Bala, Huw Roberts runs a Welsh Black suckler herd with an average calving index of 405 days.

Although this compares favourably with the UK average of 425 days, Mr Roberts is aiming to cut this figure - and for good reason.

During an open day at Y Gyrn, farmers heard there is a PS5 cost attached to every day a cow's calving interval extends beyond 365 days.

Yet the UK average for conception rate to first service is just 48%.

Dewi Hughes, Farming Connect's knowedge transfer manager for North Wales, said that to maximise returns, herds needed groups of calves at consistent ages and weights.

And this would result from tight calving intervals.

"Herds with tighter calving patterns perform better than those with longer calving periods," he said.

"A prolonged calving period reduces the number of suitable heifer replacements - those heifers will not be heavy enough to be served to calve before the start of the main calving period.'' Huw Roberts calves the majority of his 33-cow herd in the autumn: pedigree Welsh Black AI bulls are used on two thirds of the herd and the remainder are crossed on Charolais, again using AI bulls.

Artificial insemination (AI) has helped Mr Roberts' system and the reasons are numerous, according to Arwyn Owen, beef product development manager for Genus in the UK and Europe.

Bulls that are proven for ease of calving could be selected and AI allowed for a known calving date.

"If you know the day a cow was served, you know the day she will calve,'' said Mr Owen.

AI also allows a wide choice of bulls - and there is no risk of introducing disease into a herd. Neither do bulls have to be changed frequently if the farm is breeding its own replacements.

But Mr Owen didn't discount the role of bulls. "AI and bulls complement one another, we need both,'' he said.

Poor oestrus detection is the commonest cause of infertility in AI-bred herds. Detecting heats is important to securing a good conception rate to first service.

A farmer who spends five minutes four times-a-day detecting heats will identify just 40% of heats. But extend that period to ten minutes four times-a-day and heat detection increases to 80%.

"And 20 minutes four times -a-day would achieve a 95% success rate - it all comes down to commitment,'' said Mr Owen.

There are many factors that influence fertility; from bull fecundity to cows being able to produce one calf-a-year.

Iwan Parry, of Dolgellau Vets, said other factors played a part too, including diseases such as BVD, fluke, Johnes and leptospirosis.

"If you want to observe oestrus and a cow is lame, it is a problem,'' he said.

"If a farm is rearing its own heifer replacements and there is Johnes in the herd there is the potential for serious production loss.

"A farm needs to know its status. If there is leptospirosis in the herd it can be dealt with by vaccination and if a farm is aware it has a BVD issue it can identify persistently infected animals.'' Mr Parry recommended condition scoring cows at drying off and in the period leading up to bulling.

He also suggested the use of ultrasound post-calving to assess ovaries and to establish activity in the uterus.

"It allows you to establish at 40 days post-calving whether the uterus is ready for implantation.," he added.

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Arwyn Owen of Genus (left) with beef farmer Huw Roberts
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 24, 2013
Words:630
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