Breeding season has challenges

Autumn is here so I’ve started pregnancy testing spring calving cows.

The results, as in most years, are variable, from very good, with fit cows that have had plenty of grass all summer, to ones where the bull has not coped well at all.

One of the changes in recent years is to shorten breeding periods, which gives a compact calving and cattle can be managed more easily. The biggest problem is that if a bull is not working, there is little time for a second bull to rectify the problem. We try to minimise the risk by testing bulls’ fertility prior to the breeding season, but this cannot prevent problems if a bull goes lame or does not serve cows effectively.

Breeding rams pose similar problems so we check that they are physically normal and producing good semen prior to being introduced to ewes, but things can go wrong.

Rams are prone to going lame in the autumn so the use of Footvax and treatment prior to mating is recommended. Single sire mating groups are where most problems are seen, but farmers reduce the risk by running several rams with each group of ewes. The use of raddles gives an early indication of infertility.

Cows this year are very fit, if not fat. This is causing more Caesarean sections as fat cows trying to calve large calves are a recipe for disaster. Caesareans give the best result where a decision to operate is made early, before cow or calf have been stressed. On most farms better handling facilities mean Caesareans can be done more quickly, safely and with better outcomes than in the past.

The autumn flush of grass after a good summer should also mean farmers have fit ewes to put to the tup. Keep them going and flush them for the highest scan results. Prior to tupping, check teeth, feet, udders and condition. Old, lame ewes, with poor teeth and udders, cause problems all winter so now is the time to get them sorted.

Make sure vaccinations are up to date, both Heptavac P and abortion vaccine for replacements. Footvax should also be considered. Do you know the trace element status of your ewes? It could make a difference to condition, scan results and lambing performance.

There are a lot of things to think about in the next few weeks so I hope the weather stays good and we have a really productive autumn.