As we strive to have sustainable suckler herds within Northern Ireland calving replacement beef heifers at 24 months is one area that many farmers within Business Development Groups (BDG) aim to achieve. One farmer who has been breeding his own replacements and calving them down at 24 months for the last few years is Co. Fermanagh farmer and BDG member Roland Graham.
Within the BDG programme, Ruth Moore, CAFRE’s local Beef & Sheep Adviser, organised a BDG meeting hosted by Roland to discuss how calving at 24 months is achieved on his farm. The group welcomed Chris Johnston who works with the suckler herd at Graham’s farm to synchronise heifers, complete pre and post breeding scans and AI those heifers selected as replacements.
The group discussed the benefits of calving heifers at 24 months, in that it allows more calves from each heifer over her lifetime, a reduced stocking rate compared with calving heifers at an older age and increased cow margins. Research undertaken by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) in conjunction with Agrisearch has demonstrated a significant increase in the margins achieved per cow by calving at 24 months rather than 36 months.
The BDG members were able to view a selection of stock on the evening. As host, Roland talked through the management of his breeding herd at a variety of stages; maiden bulling heifers, heifers that have calved down at 24 months and cows that subsequently calved at 3, 4 and 5 yrs.
Identifying replacement heifers early is important for the herd at Graham’s. This ensures that nutritional programmes are put in place early to allow heifers to achieve 60% of their mature weight at bulling. Chris Johnston and Roland explained the importance of choosing the correct sire for heifers. Ease of calving is paramount to ensure the young heifers are calved safely and given every chance to go back into calf again as first calvers.
Once successfully in calf, heifers must be managed correctly to achieve 80% of their mature weight by the time of calving. Monitoring the maiden heifers body condition score ensures that they are fit, not fat at calving. Once the heifer has calved it is important that they do not lose too much condition as excessive weight loss could delay their return to cycling and so rebreeding.
In order to calve heifers at 24 months regular weighing is essential to ensure that heifers are of adequate size for mating at 15 months. Funded by DAERA and Agrisearch, the BovIS Growth Check Tool has been developed by AFBI to provide suckler farmers with a facility to evaluate the growth performance of replacement heifers within their herd. Through monitoring performance informed decisions can be made to ensure cattle intended for breeding achieve best practice targets. The BovIS Growth Check Tool can be accessed through DAERA online services.
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the European Union fund the Business Development Groups Scheme and the establishment of Technology Demonstration Farms across Northern Ireland, as part of the Rural Development Programme.
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