‘The aim to get fertile cows each rearing a good calf every year is a cornerstone of profitable suckler beef production,” says Joe Henry, partner at the Alnorthumbria Veterinary Group, one of the North East’s leading farm veterinary practices.
“We all know how important the correct replacements for your herd are. Whether your system is high input show calf production or more extensive, with easier fleshing from forage and medium size cattle, they still share common goals.”
Here he looks at the factors to take into consideration to maximise the chance of hitting production targets when thinking about replacements for your herd.
“Along with disease status, age, temperament and EBVs, this year the practice is working with its farming clients on an innovative method for measuring the pelvic area.
“Firstly, disease status is crucial and efforts should be made to get high health stock particularly BVD, TB and Johnes free. Other diseases to check the status of are leptosporosis, IBR and campylobacter with appropriate measures put in place to avoid or control these.
“Age at first calving is important with calving at two years old the most efficient but requires high levels of management to work well. Not all of the cattle’s genetic potential can be seen by eye so attention should also be focused on maternal characteristics such as milking ability, calving ease direct and indirect and mature size.
“Farmers need to choose the characteristics that best suit their business goals. It’s also important to take temperament into account. Farming is already one of the most dangerous occupations and having quieter cows reduces the risks of injury. No calf is worth getting injured over.
“This year, we have begun working with farmers on the pelvic area measurement of potential heifer replacements. The groundwork for this type of work has been done in the USA where they have compared data on thousands of heifers. The biggest contributing factor to calving problems is the size of calf. The second biggest is the area of the pelvic opening of the heifer. These factors can be controlled by using easy calving bulls with high accuracy for low birth weights and eliminating heifers with small pelvic areas, pre-breeding.
“We measure the pelvic area by using a ‘Rice pelvimeter’ – a pair of large callipers we carefully place up the rectum of the heifers. A vertical measurement of the pelvic canal is made by putting one end on the pubic symphysis and the other on the inside of the sacral vertebrae and reading off the scale. We then close the callipers and make a horizontal measurement by placing the ends on the insides of the pelvis at the correct position. These two measurements are multiplied to give the pelvic area.
“The pelvis grows at a relatively constant rate from nine to 24 months of age. Continentals grow at 10cm squared per month and native breeds at 8cm squared for this period.
“The use of these management procedures and decisions will decrease the chance of human intervention at calving next spring with all the fertility, calf mortality and time releasing benefits following on. It is a relatively simple method that can be done at the same time as other procedures but could make a significant difference to the overall health of beef cattle herds.”
The Alnorthumbria Veterinary Group has dedicated farm vets throughout Northumberland and large animal treatment rooms in its Alnwick surgery to allow examination and surgery on calves, sheep and pigs. It has specialist equipment including ultrasound scanners and tipping crushes and specialises in fertility management techniques. Visit www. alnorthumbriavets.co.uk