Investing in an effective heat detection system has seen Northampton-based brothers embark on a fertility mission for their beef herd, but the introduction of AI and sexed semen has given them the biggest success. Farmers Guardian reports.
Utilising the latest technology has always been a must for brothers Richard and Peter Burbage at Oakfields Farm, East Haddon, Northamptonshire, and it has been this attitude which has allowed the brothers to build up a successful contracting business alongside the farm.
However, behind the scenes, fertility within the 150-cow herd was lacking and diseases caused from buying-in stock were becoming a serious problem.
Peter says: “BVD absolutely annihilated us over two seasons. It was suppressing the immune system of the herd and started leading to other issues. It became a case of you name it, we had it.
“We did start to put protocols in place with vaccinations for BVD and blood tests because we wanted high herd health status.”
It was this aspect of fertility management which prompted the brothers to change their breeding strategy and they decided to invest in Cogent’s PinPoint programme, which provides up-to-the-minute heat detection technology to aid the use of AI in the herd.
“We have got on really well with the heat detection, it suited our management system because we feed with a TMR ration. We are not always around the cattle but the technology allows us to monitor the cows which are bulling and you can instantly see on the screen which cows are cycling and, probably more importantly, the cows which are not.
“We achieved 76 pregnancies within the first six weeks of AI from a service group of 100 females, which was our whole goal. AI has also really opened doors for us. We have access to the kind of genetics that we could never have previously afforded and we have better bloodlines coming into the herd,” says Richard.
However, Peter admits there were some initial challenges.
“We are quite fortunate with our system as everything has been set up for the best way to manage the cattle but the first days using AI I thought my goodness, what have we done. The cows were running round the pen and I said to Richard ‘you can keep this job’.
“I was starting to get frustrated and my temper started to get the better of me because they were getting crafty and knew how to beat me. There is a bit of work involved and you can not be under the illusion that there is not.”
But once the heat detection system and AI began working in harmony, the benefits for the herd became clear.
“We have 150 cows over seven pens. Realistically that is going to take seven stock bulls. If they served three cows per day, that is a good figure and would equal maybe 20 calves. We had 20 cows come bulling in a single day using AI.
“You also do not know what genetics you are going to get. We have bought bulls in the past with bad character and we do not want that on the farm. Self preservation is key. We have to breed for temperament.”
Richard agrees: “If you have your most fertile animals and they all come bulling at the same time, the stock bull is going to miss them and you could end up culling cows for all the wrong reasons.
“We have also seen a big improvement and tightening of the calving pattern since using AI.
“We can tighten group ages up a lot more and get more even batches of calves which makes a big change at the market. That uniformity is making a huge difference, allowing us to capitalise and push up our growth margins.”
Going forward, Richard and Peter want to move exclusively into breeding Salers cattle and the success they have had with AI has given them the confidence to start breeding better replacements using sexed semen.
“We want to build our herd quickly and using one bull is a slow process. With sexed semen you find yourself playing a better percentage game. On our first 20 heifers calving last season we got 19 heifer calves and one bull.
“Efficiency and profitability is the big word in our business and there has never been a time where we have looked back and regretted making the move into AI,” says Richard.
Peter says: “To have access to all of those bloodlines and technology without radically changing our system is very exciting for us. It allows us to get our herd to where we want it to be and we know that if fertility is right and condition is right then the whole picture is right.”