2014-06-04   facebooktwitterrss
Science Behind Aughafatten Farm Success

A ‘back to basics’ themed AgriSearch farm walk drew over 70 farmers to the Aughafatten farm of Tom Moorhead and family, who run 130 suckler cows and 220 ewes.

Of their 450 acres close to Slemish Mountain 150 acres are in grazing, another 150 are used for silage making and the remaining third of the farm is mountain ground.

Tom Moorhead

Tom Moorhead farms 450 acres running to the slopes of Slemish and works closely with AFBI scientists conducting on farm trials selected for support by NI farmers through AgriSearch.

At this AgriSearch knowledge transfer event, organised in co-operation with CAFRE and AFBI, Thomas emphasised the high priority given to whole herd health. Cattle being screened for both BVD and Johnes as part of Animal Health and Welfare NI, AHWNI, control programs.

AFBI research vet Dr Jason Barley highlighting the importance of having a planned animal health regime in place to ensure the timely use of anthelmintics and vaccinations.

Hillsborough AFBI scientist Dr Francis Lively then spoke on the importance of herd fertility in maximising performance from suckler cows.

The average Northern Ireland suckler cow calving index is around 400 days which is considerably longer than the target 365 days. This leads to prolonged calving periods, which in addition to increasing the work load, also reduces the opportunity to utilise grazed grass, the cheapest feed source for suckler production.

Dr Lively then discussed how synchronisation of suckler cows and replacement heifers can be used to improve fertility performance and allow the use of proven sires with high Estimated Breeding Values.

A pilot study carried out on 140 beef heifers across 5 Northern Ireland farms compared two different synchronisation programmes, one using heat detection and the other using fixed time AI. Both programmes had very similar results with 58% and 57% conception rates respectively. The key guidelines to success are:

  • To have heifers at 60%+ of mature weight at 14 months
  • To have vaccinations completed well in advance of synchronisation
  • To follow the synchronisation protocol in a timely manner and plan ahead in conjunction with your vet and AI technician and to use the correct needle size.

Dr Denise Lowe then urged producers to use all information available to them when choosing sires for their suckler herd.

“In addition to visual assessment of soundness and temperament of the bull, make use of Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) as a tool to assessing the genetic potential of the sire. EBVs are published for a range of traits including calving ease, milking ability, growth traits and carcase traits.

“Decide what traits are important for your cow type in your herd, your system and your market: are you looking for a terminal sire or will you be breeding your own replacements? How important is easy calving? Do your homework and study EBVs and their accuracies before purchasing a stock bull.

“EBVs can be visualised in a graph; in general bars that go to the right of the central line indicate that the EBV of that trait is above the breed average so the further to the right, the better.”

Dr Norman Weatherup from CAFRE Greenmount then demonstrated how getting back to the basics of taking care of your soil is the basis of successful farming. He urged farmers to soil test as grass will not grow to its potential if land is too acidic or does not have adequate nutrients. In addition, a significant proportion of the nutrients in artificial fertiliser are not available if pH is low.

Only having taken any remedial action needed with soil nutrients is it possible to grow as much grass as possible using the most productive perennial ryegrasses and clover.

Grass grown, but not used, is wasted so a paddock grazing system is the best way to maximise animal performance and sward utilisation by closely matching grass supply with animal demand. As ever, making time for reseeds when swards are past their best gives an excellent return on money and effort invested.

For details of AgriSearch supported on-farm research and forthcoming farm walks browse www.agrisearch.org


Related Links
link Don’t Get Careless Over Liver Fluke
link Understanding Bovine Viral Diarrhoea Virus (BVDV)
link Northern Ireland BVD Eradication Programme Update
link Greater Threat from Staggers this Spring
link Veterinary

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