The study of the Spanish suckler cow sector (MAPAMA, 2018) shows a positive evolution in the majority of Autonomous Communities and breeds analyzed in the last 10 years. But there is still a significant margin for improvement, taking into account aspects such as fertility (70%), the weaning rate (0.65 calves / cow / year), the interval between calvings (440 days) or the proportion of overweight wet nurses. 36 months without a registered delivery (36%).
In 2017, 87,192 suckler cow farms were registered (MAPAMA, 2018). Without taking into account 18% of them (who had a census of zero wet nurses), the average size of these herds is 22 females, 71% have less than 25 cows and only 4% have more than 100 wet nurses. Some studies point to the need to have at least 60 cows to be able to “live” from this economic activity, so it is likely that a good part of these farms are not the main activity, nor are they considered as a company. First mistake, which helps to understand, in part, the official statistics. Suckler cow farms will only guarantee their viability as a company if they carry out proper herd management, which will undoubtedly improve fertility, weaning rate and thus the net margin per suckler.
It is feasible to improve the results of a farm with data registration, two complete herd checks, distribution of animals in mating lots and feeding that guarantees good body condition at calving.
Decalogue of managing a herd of suckler cows
1. Observe and routinely record all possible DATA: date and ease of calving, calf sire, yields and health incidents, in order to carry out an adequate diversion (according to criteria such as infertility, dystocia, uterine prolapse, low milk production, health problems, lameness …) and replacement of animals on the farm.
2. Keep in mind what the MARKET needs and what pays better. It will help to choose which breed or cross and which parturition period is of most interest, also taking into account the resources of the farm.
3. Plans the LABOR SEASON by means of controlled mating (by natural breeding or artificial insemination), it will allow choosing the favorable period of calving, scheduling labor and feeding in advance, paying greater attention to calving and generating homogeneous batches of calves, with higher value for sale. Working with two mating periods per year lasting 2 months each (for example) allows “re-fishing” the cows that have not become pregnant in the previous mating.
4. Distribute your herd in homogeneous LOTS of animals to adjust to the maximum the nutritional needs of the cattle and the feeding, the higher cost of the farm. It is advisable to have at least different lots for dry cows, cows in the last third of gestation and calving cows, rearing lots and fattening groups. You can even make sublots to better feed those who need it most.
5. It guarantees a good BODY CONDITION (fattening) of the cows at calving, to ensure the appearance of heat 45 days after calving and the milk production necessary to raise a healthy calf. It also guarantees a good state of meat during mating and early gestation to avoid negative repercussions of prenatal undernutrition on the performance of the offspring. If you need more information, you can see how prenatal feeding affects future heifers.
6. If the cows are not in good body condition at calving, it will be essential to feed them very well during lactation and restrict, if possible, the ACCESS OF THE CALF to the mother 1-2 times / day; wean him early (3-4 months) in the case of heifers; and supplement it with starter feed so that it does not depend so much on the mother.
7. Make sure that the HEIFERS remain pregnant between 18 and 24 months of age. Only well-managed farms may consider coverage at a younger age. You can review the specific guidelines for proper rearing management at this link: “The challenge of rearing future suckler cows. “
8. Select the BULL before the start of mating, according to its birth weight, growth and calving ease in previous mating (never use a bull without previous results with heifers). Ensure that it has an adequate body condition (moderate), absence of lameness and lesions in the reproductive system, and ask your veterinarian for analysis of seminal quality and absence of venereal diseases (Besnoitia, Trichomonas, Campylobacter).
9. Carry out ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION at a fixed time with at least the best animals on your farm. To ensure its success, it is essential to guarantee the good condition of the females’ meats, plan the synchronization protocol, products, handling sleeve, vet skills, stress-free handling, do not vaccinate or deworm those weeks, and seek special advice.
10. Perform a GESTATION DIAGNOSIS by rectal palpation and / or ultrasound 1-2 months after mating, to detect cows that have not become pregnant and to be able to make decisions as soon as possible. And of course comply with the vaccination schedule of your ADS for cows, bulls and calves.