Calving at 2 Years? – Yes say the NBA
“In the modern day beef industry there is little room for calving at 3 years old.” This is the message from Charlie Maclaren, newly appointed board member of The National Beef Association (NBA).
There are only a few exceptions to this rule such as the hill breeds such as Galloways, Highlands and Welsh Black Cattle, who are slow maturing and spend all their time out on the hill. There are also a few pedigree breeders who traditionally have calved at 28 or 36 months to tie in with the new show season and the pedigree sales, but this is not for commercial reasons.
Here Charlie Maclaren explains why anyone who is calving at 3 years old (36 months) is doing both themselves and their cows a disservice and missing out both financially and physically.
A calf when born is solely reliant on its mother for milk as a feed to grow. When the female calf reaches 4 to 5 months old the mammary cells in the udder start to increase in size. In between months 5 and 12 the mammary cells increase in number. This period is critical for determining the eventual level of milk production. From 12 to 14 months onwards the mammary cells in the heifer will increase in size and this will carry on till pre calving for the first time.
Many stockmen will have seen the udder in young heifers start to grow at about 15 months. If the mammary cells are not there in good numbers fat will be deposited in their place and this will limit future milk production. Fat will also be deposited if there is not a hormone change in the heifer from not being in-calf to being in-calf.
Why is it that so many beef farmers, finish cattle at 18 to 20 months, yet are unsure about calving at 2 years? I don’t understand it. I do agree that the management of a heifer calving at 2 is one not to be taken lightly, she will need your help until at least the second calf is born but if you can leave her until the calf is weaned this would be even better. With this little bit of help she will work as well as any cow in the herd.
Here Charlie explains the key areas to watch and assist with if necessary
Your heifer will be approximately 400 to 420 kgs when going to the bull and will grow in stature once she has conceived. She will calf down at over 500 kgs. To make sure that she comes back in season and holds to the bull, it is worth noting that she may need assistance in terms of extra feeding, through the first lactation.
A cow will continue growing until she is 5 years old. She will be keen to milk, but to give her more of a rest period and time to carry on growing, you can always wean the calf a month or so earlier. By weaning these heifers earlier you can keep them separate through the coming winter and feed them accordingly.
If you use calf creeps, put these out earlier as this will take the pressure off these newly calved heifers and keep them away from the rest of the herd. They can then get preferential treatment and the best of the new grass or creep nearby to supplement their feeding.
Some people calf their heifers a month before the cows so that they can give them more attention and so they can also slip them back an extra month. In addition, if anything goes wrong such as the heifer doesn’t milk or struggles to come back into season, you still have time to sell her fat before she is 30 months.
“These are just a few ideas but you have to look at your own system, to see how to make it work for you and your farm, and it is best to always remember success is about attention to detail,” says Charlie.
These figures, based on a perfect farm with 100% calving and 50% heifers and 50% bulls each year, show how much more productive calving at 2 is compared to calving at 3. They also show the difference between the two methods and bring into the herd the calves from each cow as they become old enough to be a member of the herd.
“So” concludes Charlie “If the cost of a heifer entering the herd
at 2 years is £1200 then what is the cost of a heifer calving at
3? Have you got the space to carry these extra non- productive
numbers? I will let you do the sums for your own herd.”