Drier times are pushing beef producers to consider what can be done to ensure their breeding herd is still productive.
Managing heifers and mature cow weights to an appropriate level for their individual system, breeding objectives and target markets is fundamental.
RaynerAg principal Alastair Rayner, Tamworth, said it is important to consider both critical joining weight and age when joining heifers.
“It is important to grow heifers to an appropriate, large enough size that they are able to have a calf at the other end,” he said.
“Producers need to ensure heifers aren’t over fat and are in a good body condition for calving. This means not under or over weight but managed appropriately to ensure they are in the optimum condition score.”
They need to be managed to ensure their nutritional requirements are met not restricted, especially post calving when a lot of physiological changes are occurring, to allow overall productivity.
Light condition will affect the ability of the heifer to lactate and raise a calf efficiently and their ability to go back in calf. This impacts overall weaning and pregnancy percentages.
Over weight heifers pose risks to ease of calving and udder development which affects the calving and weaning percentage of the herd.
Overfeeding heifers can result in unnecessary feed being consumed that can result in producers paying extra input costs per head.
Managing mature cow weights can play an important role in improving the efficiency of some systems.
Producers need to ensure they ask the question ‘do the cattle they are producing suit their environment and the markets they are targeting’ Mr Rayner said.
Moderate mature cows weighing 500 to 550 kilograms have an energy demand less than larger cows of 650+kg. This translates to up to six kg of extra dry matter per day meaning an increase in overall feed costs.
“Bigger cows eat more and there is only so much feed in paddocks,” he said.
In terms of kilograms of feed per hectare, more moderate cows can be run per hectare than larger, heavier cows with a higher energy demand.
The ultimate determinant of production is the kilograms of beef produced per hectare.
Running more moderate cows per hectare equates to more calves, overall more kg of beef per hectare produced and therefore higher profits.
If producers are running larger cows they have to be prepared to supplement feed through tougher times
Although there is a benefit in moderate females, there is a place for heavier cows in some systems where the cow size balances against environment and markets.
Focus on fertility and condition score
Maintaining a body condition score (BCS) of three is important during dry periods to ensure productivity.
RaynerAg principal Alastair Rayner, Tamworth, said it is important producers are ensuring their cows' condition score is maintained appropriately with energy demands being met.
“A lower BCS can affect lactation meaning cows will produce lighter, less valuable calves,” he said.
“Their cows return to oestrus may be delayed, resulting in a longer calving interval.”
A longer calving interval means that cows are potentially not producing a calf each year reducing your fertility level, calving percentages and overall bottom line.
Mr Rayner said producers need to consider their herd health and herd fertility.
“They should know basic pregnancy and conception rates as well as calving percentage,” he said.
“Producers should be pregnancy testing every year to know pregnancy rate of cows tested in calf to calves weaned.
“This will allow monitoring of overall herd fertility to ensure animals are calving down each year.”