When it comes to running a cattle operation, scrimping isn’t really saving because you will end up paying for it later.
However, if you do things the right way, you can save yourself a lot of money and it won’t have an adverse effect on the performance of your operation.
Breeding is one place you can make savings, partly owing to the fact that you can prepare for it well in advance.
If you’re not well prepared for breeding season you will end up incurring unintended costs anyway, so best stay on top of it.
In a dairy operation, breeding isn’t the most expensive aspect.
According to Teagasc the average AI/breeding costs were 0.63c/L in 2014. This breaks down, they say, to around €32 per cow and 3% of total costs. But a penny pinching farmer can still shave a lot from that.
Here are a few ways you can get breeding out of the way in the most efficient way possible.
Make sure your cows are in good shape
It is often said that thin cows don’t breed, and there is some truth to that. They are often slower to cycle. In addition to this, they are more prone to mishaps like back injuries if they are too slight to be dealing with the bull.
Make sure well in advance that your cows are all in good condition and if you're introducing a bull, make sure they're an appropriate size.
Check out your bull before breeding starts
This is the first of many times I’ll say this here, you have to spend money to save money. If you have bulls, get a vet to check them out before breeding starts. Many farmers have been caught out by infertile bulls that appear to breed the cows and heifers.
There are other things to look out for too, like foot or leg injuries which can render them sub-fertile, or sexually transmitted infections.
Consult a vet about vaccines
Chatting to a vet about what vaccines the cows in your operation need is a must, and will be of great benefit come calving time. Sick calves are unproductive, and their value is too high to risk preventable illnesses.
Spending money to save it later. Vaccinating your bulls is no harm either.
Identify problem cows
This is more of a problem on smaller farms. In the past this cow has been a great asset. Maybe she was an easy calver, maybe she was a good milker.
But if they start developing recurrent problems, for example not breeding on time or having difficulty calving, you should consult a vet - don’t make excuses for them.
This is inviting breeding, vet and labour costs as well as losses if their calves don’t hit peak growth. If they have had problems with their last calf or few calves, consider removing them.
Increase heat detection rates
This part is tricky but becoming easier as technology improves. It just makes sense that you would save money if you use less AI straws. At roughly €20-a-pop the costs do stack up, especially with repeats.
Good heat detection gives you the perfect springboard to increase your conception rates. The problem is most heat detection systems require a large amount of surveillance and therefore labour costs, or they require an investment of ~€8000 which isn’t viable when you’re aiming to keep costs down.
Moocall HEAT, our new heat detection system bridges the gap between sophisticated heat detection and affordable costs which are proportionate to the size of the operation you’re running. The device is as accurate as the bull wearing it (and can tell you when he's not).
Teagasc say that increasing the conception rate to first service from 45% to 55% in a 100-cow herd will result in 20 fewer AI straws being used over nine weeks.
When you remember that €20 cost per straw this tots up to a €400 euro saving. That already brings you well along to the way to paying for your Moocall HEAT device.
That doesn’t even account for the fact that every missed heat costs €149 to suckler farmers and €250 to dairymen.
Examine your cows for pelvic size
Before you go picking your sire, consider who they’re serving. If your cows have a narrow pelvis, or are known not to be an easy calver, why would you put a big calf in them?
This will require more labour, incur vet costs and puts the health of the cow and calf at risk.
Conversely, it lets you get the most out of your herd without having to err on the side of caution. Check out your herd and you will benefit from it later.
Think long and hard about your sires
Don’t take your sire decision lightly. This could be costly later.
In many beef/suckler herds, farmers place a good high mature weight as the most important factor to consider.
However, to go exclusively off of that would be foolish, and if you are on a small to medium sized operation it could lead to problems down the line.
A cow will eat a percentage of their body weight each day. Because the bigger cattle will eat more each day, they will cost more to feed. 70-75% of the total energy consumed by a suckler herd goes towards maintaining a cow’s body condition alone.
If you had physically smaller cows you could support an additional head with the money you’ve saved from not feeding a more demanding breed.
These things aren’t obvious at first glance, but by looking at your operation you are bound to find ways you can be doing things smarter and more efficiently, be you on a dairy or a beef farm.
What changes have you made to your operation to make it more efficient?