Breeding heifer replacements key to herd health

Farming Connect - 2012-07-01

A suckler beef producer says breeding his own replacement heifers offers him the best option for maintaining herd health.

For years Richard Powell had a policy of buying replacements for his Limousin-cross and Belgian Blue-cross herd at Guddr Farm, near Crickhowell.

But he has now invested in good bulls and plans to breed his own heifers. “There are so many health implications when you buy in heifers, I’m particularly worried about BVD and Johnes,’’ he said.

It’s not only the threat of disease that has nudged him to change his replacements policy. He is striving for better quality heifers too. This, he said, will give him more control over breeding to produce a cow that has sufficient milk to rear a strong calf every year.

Guddr Farm is a Farming Connect Demonstration Farm and the Powells recently hosted a knowledge transfer event that focussed specifically on breeding heifer replacements.

Bull fertility specialist vet, Gareth Mulligan, said bulls should always have a bull fertility evaluation which includes looking at a sperm sample when they are first bought and also annually 6-8 weeks before breeding. He conducted a test on one of Mr Powell’s bulls during the Farming Connect event, assessing sperm for motility and examining the sample under high magnification to identify any tail and head abnormalities.

Mr Mulligan, of the Afon Veterinary Practice, said it was also standard best practice in pedigree beef herds to test semen before young bulls are sold and commercial suckler producers should be asking for this information.

Good fertility is very achievable but in Wales the number of calves weaned per 100 cows is just 86%.

Ian Pritchard, a beef specialist at the Scottish Agricultural Colleges, advises farmers to use maternal types of cow rather than terminal sires because they achieve early sexual maturity and flesh easily.

Good fertility, he said, is essential for maintaining a tight calving pattern. Improving calving percentages and maintaining a compact calving spread in a 100-cow herd is worth £100,000 over 10 years, according to Mr Pritchard.

When retaining your own suckler herd replacements, he recommended allowing bulls to run with the heifers for six weeks only or for two cycles.  Any heifers bulling later are going to be less fertile.

Mr Pritchard believed there was a good opportunity for farmers in Wales with herds accredited as free of Johnes to breed for sale, replacements with good material Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs). “This is a largely untapped market. I believe farmers would be happy to pay more for good health status and superior maternal characteristics and this would help Wales’ national suckler herd to develop in the future.’’

The Farming Connect event at Guddr Farm was facilitated by Sally Davies. For further information on Farming Connect call 01970 636565 or visit

Farming Connect, which is delivered by Menter a Busnes, is funded through the Rural Development Plan 2007-2013 which is financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

Photos for this release:

Richard Powell has invested in good bulls and plans to breed his own heifers