Big turnout at ‘Breeding for Performance’ event

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Around 200 farmers attended the recent “Breeding for Performance” roadshows at Ballymena and Clogher Livestock Markets organised by AFBI, AgriSearch, CAFRE and LMC.

Speakers at the events included Dr Francis Lively (AFBI); Dr Steven Johnston (CAFRE), Dr Barry McInerney (AFBI) and Professor David Kenny (Teagasc).

With a Northern Ireland average calving interval of 409, Francis Lively highlighted the lack in improvement in suckler cow fertility over the past 30 years. He indicated that improvements could be achieved through appropriate cow nutrition and ensuring cows are at optimal body condition score throughout key stages in the year. He also presented recent research findings which found around 80% of cows were deficient in Iodine and Selenium which could be a major contributor to infertility.

Dr Steven Johnston updated the audience on the selection criteria for replacement heifers and new sires at CAFRE’s Glenwherry Hill Farm.

Steven highlighted the importance of using EBV’s in the selection of new bulls and reported that an AFBI survey showed that herd owners who selected bulls on figures in addition to visual looks had superior herd fertility (reduced calving interval by 17 days) than producers who selected bulls based on only visual appearance.

Steven reminded the audience that the EBV’s figures are constantly improving as additional information becomes available, so it is not uncommon for specific traits to change with time. Bearing this in mind he recommended that this information should be monitored and reviewed regularly; and going forward all producers should record the sire of their calves when registering calves on APHIS.

He concluded that suckler cows are getting larger at CAFRE but as there is no relationship between cow size and calf weaning weight; CAFRE’s next selection criteria will be to reduce the mature weight of the cow.

Dr Barry McInerney gave an overview of important diseases that affect the reproductive performance of beef herds, with particular focus on BVD and Leptospirosis. The benefits of the AFBI Cattle Health scheme were also highlighted.

Professor David Kenny reported that 80% of calves born on suckler beef herds are sired by bulls rather than through artificial insemination. He reported that 3-5% of bulls are infertile and 10-25% of bulls can be sub-fertile. Consequently, producers need to be continually vigilant for potential fertility problems so that corrective action can be taken before it’s too late. He reminded producers that young bulls should be purchased well in advance of the breeding season to enable them to acclimatise to the new herd and diet prior to the start of the breeding season.

David strongly recommended that all bulls (regardless to whether they are newly purchased or existing within the herd) get a bull breeding soundness evaluation in advance of the breeding season and that bulls are regularly observed for physical fitness during the breeding season. Importantly, David concluded that utmost care should always be taken with bulls.

Those who attended the events commented on the useful information provided with over 97% interested in attending similar events in the future.

Electronic copies of the event booklet can be downloaded from the AFBI and AgriSearch website. Hard copies can also be requested by contacting AgriSearch on 028 92681539.

The organisers would like to sincerely thank the management and staff at Ballymena and Clogher Livestock Markets for hosting these two events.

Further mart based events for the beef and sheep sector are planned for the coming months as part of the “Future Proofing Beef and Sheep Farming” series of events being organised by AFBI, AgriSearch, CAFRE and LMC.