Improve Calving With Tests On Bulls

3rd May 2012

Calves are now landing on the ground in many parts and the cycle begins once again, little evidence of Schmallenburg virus has been reported in cattle and let’s hope that for now the threat has subsided and by next lambing scientists have developed some sort of vaccination for the ewe flock. Some farms have been hit with as much as 15% loss of lambs which in the current climate equates to a substantial financial loss.

So with calves landing on the ground attention should now be turned to ensure your bulls are in tip top working order. I am seeing a greater number of farmers use fertility testing to establish the vigour of their bulls. It’s a relatively simple exercise and of little cost to do. Most vets now offer the service and it can provide vital information on the health of 50% of your breeding herd. Whilst the main use of the test is to establish the ability of the bulls to breed it can in fact be used to help with stocking rates and ensure that your calving pattern is kept as tight as possible. Vets are now able to look closely at levels of viable sperm and also sperm vigour and mobility. They will be able to score you bulls in order or merit and indicate those which are more likely to handle larger numbers of cows and get them in calf at first or second service. With this information at hand it gives the ability to put the most vigorous bulls out first to serve the bulk of the cows sweeping up later with the less vigorous when number to bull are lower. If you do this test in combination with routine foot trimming and medication it will allow you to MOT your bulls well in advance of when they are required and identify problems in time to treat or remedy before it’s too late. It will also stop you saying in two three months time “that bull is not stopping those cows”. By that time the damage will be done, it will be difficult to pick up a replacement bull of suitable merit and the damage to the calving pattern could take two to three year to remedy.

For those farmers who have already experienced a “dud” bull with the resultant spread of calving pattern or drop in calf numbers fertility testing will identify the guilty party but will not solve the problem. A number of things maybe done to help, a natural variation of pregnancy periods exists between different breed with limousin average approximately 300 days compared to British Blues average approximately 284 days, some variance also exists within breeds. By using a bull with a naturally shorter gestation length at the end of the bulling period it will help pull the later calving cows forward and back into the target period of 12 weeks. Feed additives are available such as Agri Lloyd beef breeder which has been shown to have an impact on calving cows and their ability to get back in calf quickly and be in good breeding health at first service. However which ever option you pursue will depend on the impact of the faulty bull, those cows calving well outside the target period should be moved into the autumn herd if running a split system or should be sold off the farm and replaced with bulling heifer which can be bulled to enter the main body of the calving period. Farms which are able to manage fertility effectively are much more profitable and are able to manage calves more efficiently through their time on the farm. Not only will there be an initial saving in labour costs at calving time but a smaller spread in calf age results in animals of similar size and health status at weaning and housing next winter. Whilst I know myself it is difficult to be ruthless with the breeding program on farm I would challenge farmers to target a nine week calving period and make use of the strong cull cow trade while it is there to weed out cows of poor fertility or that are consistently giving calving problems or producing substandard calves. We are in a globally competitive market for our beef now and we need to make sure we are farming as efficiently as possible to ensure that maximum profitability is achieved.

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