Focus on fertility

Gordon Mitchell with some of the Hereford calves which are reared for sale through the local livestock market.
Gordon Mitchell with some of the Hereford calves which are reared for sale through the local livestock market.

Good herd fertility and a tight calving interval is a priority for dairy farmer, Gordon Mitchell who farms with his father Walton near Banbridge.

“Attention to detail and a focus on the key efficiency factors is more important than ever at current milk prices,” says Gordon. It was this focus on areas such as grassland management, nutrition, herd health and fertility which earned Gordon a place in this year’s Dale Farm, farm efficiency competition.

Genetic improvement is another key area and carefully selected AI sires are used to ensure sufficient high quality replacements to maintain the herd – a Hereford bull is then used to get the remaining cows in calf as quickly as possible. The bull is first introduced to the heifers to cover any repeats to AI service – then joins the main herd in March or April when sufficient cows have been confirmed in-calf to the Holstein inseminations.

A program of heat detection involving pedometers and close observation of the cows ensures good conception rates and regular veterinary visits for pregnancy diagnosis and examinations make sure that problems are detected and treated as early as possible.

This regime has helped reduce the herd’s calving interval in recent years – achieving an average of 367 days in 2014.

“A sweeper bull is part of the strategy,” says Gordon.

“We introduced our first Hereford in 2008, purchasing him at a Dungannon bull sale. We have been pleased with the results and some years later when he became a bit too heavy for the heifers we returned to the same breeder to purchase our current bull. They work well either in the cubicles or at grass and are effective in getting cows settled quickly.”

The Hereford progeny are reared and sold as stores in the local market at 15 to 18 months when they are in keen demand from beef finishers or as breeding females.