< Sponsors Feature - AHDB - Driving profitability in the suckler herd through the use of maternal traits
AHDB's Maternal Matters Campaign

AHDB’s Maternal Matters campaign, which launched in September last year, highlights the connection between maternal performance and profitability in the suckler herd. The aim of the campaign is to promote the production of heifers that are efficient, profitable and fit for the future.

With the changes in agricultural payments around the corner, there has never been a more appropriate time to focus on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and your Cost of Production (COP). Suckler herds will have to evolve to overcome the challenges ahead and concentrating on maternal attributes has been proven to increase profitability.

  • Improvements in fertility traits can have five times the economic benefit of improvements in growth and carcase traits
  • Only 82% of suckler cows currently produce a calf each year
  • Average age at first calving is 32.8 months in the UK 
  • Only 35% suckler herds calve at two
  • The average suckler producer is losing £135 per cow before subsidy

These statistics put us behind our global competitors in terms of maternal efficiency.

Cost of Production (COP) per calf weaned

Knowing your COP allows you to make informed marketing and business decisions. An accurately calculated COP can also be used to benchmark yourself against similar enterprises and identify areas where you’re spending/income may be above/below average.

COP can be calculated using the AHDB KPI Express tool (found at https://farmbusinessreview.ahdb.org.uk/Home/Index ) and requires knowledge of business income and expenditure.  

  1. Age at first calving

Reducing age at first calving to two-years-old is a proven and effective way of reducing COP and increasing cow lifetime performance. Replacements account for 8.5% of COP, so can we really afford not to calve them at two? Aim for between 22 and 26 months for maximum efficiency. While there are many factors contributing to successfully calving at two, hitting target bulling weights is essential to ensure puberty is reached early enough and heifers calve easily. Nutrition and selecting for positive 200-day and 400-day growth can be achieved using estimated breeding values (EBVs).

  1. Cow herd efficiency

Cow herd efficiency assesses the relationship between cow weight and calf output. It is linked to profitability and reflects herd fertility, health, genetics, feed and management.

Pay close attention to selecting female replacements. Keeping records of their mothers ability will make selection easier. Bull choice to breed replacements from is also vital. Milk EBV, Mature Cow weight EBV and 200 growth EBV are all important, whilst always looking for easy calving.

  1. Females calved in first six-weeks

A tight calving block indicates good fertility and makes management easier resulting in calves that are more consistent at weaning, easier to market and can be effectively managed in a block. The aim is for over 65% to calve within the six-week window, with anything above 80% being excellent.

  1. Daily liveweight gain (DLWG) of calves to weaning

With the right genetics, the dam’s ability to milk and correct grassland management, calves should average at least 1.1kg/day from birth to weaning. It is important that this is achieved cost effectively, and if higher rates of growth can only be achieved from increased inputs, COP must be considered carefully. Weigh calves at weaning to calculate, with the average weight gain from birth to weaning divided by the average age of calves when weighed.

To find out more about the AHDB Maternal Matters campaign visit www.ahdb.org.uk/maternal-matters .

We would like to thank AHDB for their continued support of BCBC.

For more information about the BCBC Virtual Conference on Tuesday 25th January, and to register your place visit the conference page.