Improving suckler cow efficiency by Oestrus Synchronisation

The main aim of the event was to discuss the benefits of oestrus synchronisation within the commercial 

beef herd. The event also aimed to highlight the importance of high herd health and fertility to improve herd performance and profitability, as well as discuss the benefits of artificial insemination and utilising high quality genetics for maximum output.


The issue, its impact:

An extended calving pattern can lead to high costs for beef producers. A reduction in deadweight and an extended rearing period will have a negative impact on profitability and herd efficiency. Spring and autumn calving patterns have been proven to result in higher average deadweight, with a 10kg difference in carcass weight between March and July born calves.  As well as tightening the calving pattern, synchronisation and the use of AI can reduce bull replacement costs significantly.


The solution, next steps:

The first part of the event involved a discussion regarding the methods used in the Farming Connect project at Fferam Gyd. 55 commercial cows/heifers were included in the synchronisation, whilst an additional 34 received natural service on the same day the synchronised group were artificially inseminated. 77% of the synchronised group stood to the first service, exceeding the initial target of 60% which is exceptionally good. The majority of synchronised cows calved within two weeks, with natural service cows during a much extended period. Using AI from Kingbull (pedigree Limousin bull) allows Llyr, the host farmer, to access superior genetics at an affordable price, keep replacement heifers and allow current stock bulls to remain at the farm. Llyr highlighted the importance of paying attention to detail in order to obtain good results. He also highlighted the importance of good handling facilities especially in terms of health and safety, as well as plenty of space for a busy calving period. 

Calving within a short period allowed Llyr to keep a closer eye on calves as they were all kept as a batch indoors. This meant the early detection and treatment of any minor illnesses without impacting too much on calf performance. It also meant he was able to castrate and de-budd all calves prior to turnout, avoiding the stress involved for both cow and calf of bringing them back in to carry out this work at a later time. 

In future, Llyr would consider potentially inducing cows which were late calving, to avoid difficult calvings due to large calves. Overall, the project has been very successful at Fferam Gyd and Llyr will begin the next synchronisation programme within a week following the event. To conclude this project, data will be recorded and collected on calf weight and date of sale in order to determine any advantages compared to last year's calves which weren't from a synchronised programme. 

During the next part of the event, Iwan Parry, Milfeddygon Dolgellau stated that there aren't any benefits to difficult calvings, and therefore producers should select replacement heifers and bulls which are suitable for straight-forward calvings. One of the key points made during Iwan's discussion was the benefits involved in pelvic measurements for heifers. Iwan suggested adopting a ruthless approach, and avoid breeding from heifers with narrow pelvises.

He also discussed the importance of good herd health to ensure good fertility. Iwan stated that there are various methods of synchronisation, and conception rates can vary significantly. It is imperative that cows are free of disease and illness in order to be productive and reach their target of one calf/cow/year. Iwan highlighted the benefits of testing for BVD through the 'Gwaredu BVD' programme and minimising any risk of disease which could impact productivity. He also recommended that cows are kept in good body condition to achieve optimum results. 

In terms of selecting superior genetics, Arwel Owen, Genus, recommended selecting bulls which will meet your requirements. Arwel questioned the audience on their selection preferences, asking if they (as producers) select for the maternal line to breed replacement heifers. A very small number of the audience said that they select for maternal lines. Arwel stated that selecting for the maternal line is becoming more important, especially if producers need to improve production and breed more efficient breeding cows. 

During the discussion, Arwel discussed the topic of difficult calvings. He used a well-known Limousin bull, Lodge Hamlet (semen sold by Genus), as an example. Dairy cattle serviced with Hamlet appear to have no issues at calving, however, any cows which are likely to be carrying the myostatin gene (Belgian Blue/crosses, South Devon) have incurred difficulty at calving. Arwel suggested that testing cows for the myostatin gene could be an option, however it may prove in-efficient at a cost of £30/test. However, knowing the myostatin status of the maternal line could be very useful when making justified decision whilst selecting bulls for service. 


The evidence of the benefits:

Variations in month of birth has an impact on days to slaughter, with July born calves taking an additional 30 days to finish in comparison to February and March born calves on average. A 10kg loss in deadweight could cost up to £25/ head, whilst feeding for an additional 30 days costing £1.50/day will add up to £45 of extra costs. Both of these factors combined results in a loss of £70+ per head. As well as tightening the calving pattern, synchronisation and the use of AI can reduce bull replacement costs significantly by £14.37/cow. For a hundred-cow herd this would equate to a saving of £1,437/year. Conventional breeding using 2 stock bulls would cost on average, £63/cow with both bulls being changed every two years to allow for replacement heifers to be retained. The total cost of synchronisation stands at £48.63/cow, and therefore a return on investment is almost guaranteed. 


Key take home messages:

  • Attention to detail is key when implementing an oestrus synchronisation programme. 
  • Good handling facilities are crucial, as well as of plenty of space for busy calving periods. 
  • Good health and body condition is critical to achieve high fertility and good conception rates within a synchronisation programme. 
  • Consider selecting replacement heifers based on pelvic measurements. 
  • Consider selecting bulls to improve maternal lines if producing own replacements. 

Selecting good genetics to suit your system and desired output is crucial in improving productivity and profitability.