Early identification and culling of barren cows will enable English suckler herds to make the most of limited forage stocks and reduce their need for expensive supplementary feeds this winter, advises the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX).
Latest EBLEX calculations show barren cows each cost around £200 to keep and feed over a six month housing period. For a typical 70 cow spring-calving suckler herd with a barren rate of 8% this means winter savings of £1000 or more through early culling of empty cows alone.
While animals repeatedly returning to the bull should be earmarked for early culling, routine pregnancy diagnosis of cows as they are brought in for the winter is the best way of fully realising these savings. It ensures all empty cows are accurately identified without the need for additional handling before they can eat into valuable feed stocks.
Both main forms of pregnancy diagnosis – rectal palpation and ultrasound – require a veterinarian or trained technician, and can be combined with routine health treatment and Body Condition Scoring at housing for the greatest economy.
Quick and relatively less expensive, rectal palpation gives accurate results when conducted 45-60 days or more after insemination. Although more costly in time and equipment, ultrasound pregnancy diagnosis can be used as early as 25 days after insemination, making it particularly valuable for the early identification of autumn-calving cows failing to hold to service.
With feed costs as they are this winter, additional finishing of cull cows is unlikely to be worthwhile in most cases – and certainly not for any stock at Body Condition Score of 2.5 or more which should be sold without delay.
As well as identifying cull cows that may profit from additional feeding ahead of marketing, routine Body Condition Scoring of all stock as they are brought in offers valuable opportunities for further winter cost savings through more effective grouping of the herd for feeding.
Dividing cows into fat (BCS 3.0 or more), fit (BCS 2.0-3.0) and lean (BCS 2.0 or less) groups for the winter will allow feeding to be fine-tuned to more accurately achieve the target body condition at calving or turn-out for the best performance as well as greatest feed economy.