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What are the levers for competitiveness in beef suckler herds?

The competitiveness of beef farms mainly depends on export prices. Weanling purchase price is essential in this respect. Yet, when it is efficiently managed, a suckler herd can also generate substantial income. Here is TECHNA Group feed experts’ advice for optimizing the profitability of suckler farms.  

c.i. calving interval depending on cow breed charolaise blonde limousine parthenaiseFor many suckler herds, November marks the beginning of the winter calving season. Here are a few facts and figures: out of the 800,000 cattle raised for meat production produced in France each year, Italy buys between 75% and 80% of them.

Weanling prices are therefore mainly influenced by export markets. Nowadays, the Italian market is shifting towards cheaper animals for purchase and more precocious breeds.

These types of animals, produced abroad, are beginning to compete with French weanlings.

The two levers to make suckling herds more competitive

There are two levers that can allow farmers to be more competitive in suckler herds: management of reproduction and reduction of calf mortality. For example, beyond 369 days of calving interval, any additional day in extended calving interval results in a 2.6 € EBITD (Earnings Before Interest Taxes Depreciation & Amortization) reduction per cow in the herd. All in all, this daily loss amounts in average to 260 € per day for a 100-cow suckler herd.

In addition, any reduction in calf mortality ranging from 12% to 4% can result in a 10,000 euro benefit per labor unit each year. The ways to improve calving interval and mortality are multifaceted. Some specific strategies can be put in place to achieve this aim.

Our advice for preparing suckler cows to calving and reproduction

metritis CI calving interval calving condition easy calving difficult calving success A.I.Pre-calving management: Good management of the pre-calving phase can make calving easier and ensure a good start in lactation. A cow’s diet before calving should cover maintenance needs, fetal growth, and result in quality colostrum. A cow will have more difficulty to calve if she’s overweight or excessively thin. If she’s properly fed, the cow will be in optimal shape for parturition. Difficult calvings also require that farmers interfere manually. They therefore have a negative impact on reproduction in the medium term. When calving condition goes from easy to difficult, there is a 10-day increase in average between two calvings. When calving ends up being very difficult, C.I.can be extended by 41 days compared to a relatively easy calving.  

Assisting dairy production. It is also advised to support the cow’s milk production. After calving, the cow’s diet should cover her maintenance and production needs (milk), but also promote a prompt return to estrus. This means that her energy and protein requirements must be fulfilled, as well as her mineralization requirements. Post-calving diet should also promote milk quality and quantity and improve calf breastfeeding. It is always more useful to feed the cow well so that she can produce quality milk rather than giving the calf a starter feed in order to compensate for deficient milk production (in quantity and quality). The risk of feeding the cow insufficiently can lead to a 20% reduction in their reproductive performance.

grouped calving management calving interval cowsWork scheduling. A study by the French Livestock Institute shows that a defined / controlled calving season allows farmers to obtain better results on C.I. and mortality. It is recommended to schedule the calving seasons so that animals can reach similar physiological stages (gestation, calving, lactation, reproduction...). Farmers can then have more time to focus on the herd.

How can calf mortality be reduced? Each year, around 130,000 calves die due to various diseases such as stillbirths (deaths in the days following birth), respiratory issues and also digestive issues. The calf’s first hours of life are crucial in this regard. A farmer must be present to make sure that the calf is breathing, standing up and sucking at his mother. In addition, colostrum intake is essential. The calf must drink a minimum of 4L of colostrum in the first 12 hours of life (2L at birth + 2 liters in the day). Calf survival is directly linked to the amount of immunoglobulins (IgG) he ingests (a minimum of 350g). Therefore it is essential to control IgG concentration in colostrum with appropriate tools (colostrum scale, refractometer).

Sanitary conditions and vaccinations should not be omitted. Sanitary conditions in which calves are born are crucial to their survival. Calving must take place in dedicated, cleaned and disinfected pens after each use. Applying an efficient vaccination protocol can allow these animals to be protected from such diseases as BVD, salmonella and enterotoxaemia.

To help feed millers working with suckling farmers, TECHNA Group feed experts put forward a wide range of methods and solutions. Their aim is to support calves during peripartum and contribute to help cows produce quality colostrum. Please contact our experts!

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