Suckler Beef Production In Ireland: Stocking Rates

Research by Paul Crosson and Mark McGee, at Teagasc Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre focuses on profitability for suckler beef production. This section looks at the importance of stocking rates.
calendar icon 16 May 2011
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Stocking Rate

At the start of the programme the average stocking rate on the BETTER farms was 1.85 LU / ha. The target was a stocking rate of 2-2.2LU/Ha by 2011. The stocking rate has increased to 1.93 and 2.02 LU / ha in 2009 and 2010, respectively. A number of the farms have brought about this increase in stocking rate by increasing stock/cow numbers.

Breeding Performance

With margins from suckling low, and suckler cows an expensive animal to maintain it is important that cows in our herds are fit for purpose. In other words, they need to be productive, producing a live calf every year, of good quality that achieves a good weight for age in a grass based production system.

ICBF have highlighted astonishingly poor productivity in our suckler herds. Typically, the output is 0.80 calves per cow per year.

The BETTER farm programme has targeted culling poor performing cows. Using the ICBF Herdplus, individual cow breeding performance is recorded and combined with strategic weighing of their progeny, poor performers are quickly identified and culled.

Calving spread was very protracted on many the farms. This leads to increased labour, more stock groupings, potentially more disease problems and lack of focus. The programme has been working towards confining the calving spread to a 12 week period for both spring and autumn herds. Defined breeding dates, pulling back of late calvers and breeding heifers 2 weeks before the main herd are all central to achieving this target. A number of herds moved the start of their calving to coincide with grass growth in their area to reduce feed costs, improve performance and consequently profitability.

Selecting sires to suit cow type, ease of calving for heifers and manipulating cow condition have all helped reduce mortality at calving on the farms.

The progress made as a result of the focus on breeding performance is evident from Figure 1 below. Calves per cow per year has increased from 0.87 in 2007/08 to 0.90 in 2009/10.

Females not calved in the herd is down by 2 per cent. Mortality at birth has dropped from 4.5 per cent at the start of the programme to 2.8 per cent last year. Mortality at 28 days is down only marginally to 5.1 per cent, despite better hygiene and management around calving.

May 2011

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