Benefits of Data Collection in Suckler Herds

Benefits of Data Collection in Suckler Herds

The recording and analysis of data on beef suckler herd performance may take some time, but it does enable the root causes of any production issues to be more easily identified and investigated. It can prove a very worthwhile investment of time and effort.

For a beef suckler herd, the most important overall performance indicator is the number of calves weaned compared to the number of cows served. This effectively summarises most of the other data, and in an ideal world should be close to 95%. Much below this would suggest improvements can be made. By having the data, it is easier to see what the problems are, and investigate accordingly.

Record the numbers of cows/heifers that are mated, and then how many prove to be barren or have abortions. Also record the number of calvings and any stillbirths. On analysing the data, a shortfall in overall herd performance may, for example, prove to be due to a high number of apparently barren cows in a group, which in turn may indicate a problem with bull fertility.

As well as recording the number of calvings, make a note of those that require assistance, vet intervention, or a caesarean. A high incidence of stillbirths and caesareans/assisted calvings would imply an issue with oversized calves and possible inappropriate bull selection.

Data should also be recorded on aspects of calf health. Record the number of calves born alive, those born alive which die before 28 days, those which die between 29 days and weaning, and those which do not make it to breeding/finishing. Similarly, record the number of cases of calf diseases such as scour and pneumonia that occur, at what age it happens and whether treatment was required, plus any deaths.

Where calves less than a month old are dying then this may suggest a colostrum issue, or poor hygiene if calving inside; where older calves are dying, then there are other issues to consider.

“Another benefit that comes from collecting data on a farm is the potential to then benchmark your own herd’s performance by comparing it with the data from other similar farms, your own farm from previous years, or to recognised target figures of production.”

For example, take calving dates. Ideally, a target of at least 65% of cows should be calving in the first three weeks of a spring or autumn calving block, so as to maximise calf weight at weaning and ensure cows are cycling again in plenty of time for the bulls going back out.
So calculate the start of the calving block (according to when the bulls were first in with the cows) and divide it into three-week periods. Record how many cows/heifers calve down in each time period to determine your calving spread. By looking at this data, it is possible to identify if the calving spread is too wide, and then to consider what actions are required to tighten it.

iStock_000017991500_LargeThe reasons why adult cattle leave the herd can also be useful data to collect and later analyse. So record the number of cattle that die or are culled between weaning and 2 years of age, adult cattle that die of natural causes and those that are culled (and on what basis).

Other aspects of herd health that should be recorded so as to allow retrospective analysis include incidences of lameness, milk fever, mastitis and respiratory disease.

In summary, data analysis may not itself give a diagnosis, but it is excellent guide at pinpointing the places for investigation. It can be a very valuable tool in the improvement of the overall profitability of a beef suckler herd. Beef sucklers were used as an example here, but data collection is just as important in sheep flocks, store cattle etc.

It is understandably difficult to find time to record data, especially during busy times such as calving and lambing periods. But having a small notebook in your pocket can provide a good start!
Interested in benefiting from Data Collection? Call us on 01746 713 911

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