Getting suckler cows prepared for the breeding season

 Are you a Dairy Farmer? Click here to read about managing your dairy cows during the pre-breeding season.


Managing suckler cows during the pre-breeding period is very important to maximise your farm output. A key performance indicator for a suckler herd is the number of calves produced per cow per year with the goal being 1 calf per cow per 365 days. We have put together a short blog that will help you get to grips with the key targets and how to achieve them.


Reaching your suckler cow breeding targets

In order to achieve the main target of one calf per cow per 365 days there are three main factors that need to be considered:

  1. How quickly are the cows coming back into heat after calving?
  2. How effective are your heat detection methods?
  3. What is the conception rate of your females?

Aim for cows to be cycling by 50-55 days after calving

It takes a suckler cow longer to come back into heat after calving than a dairy cow because of the effect of the suckling calf. The sight and smell of the calf suppresses the oestrus cycle in suckler cows. However, this effect can be reduced if you need to try and get cows cycling quicker.


Is Body Condition Score important for the suckler farmer?

Yes, absolutely! Body Condition Score is the second major factor which can slow a cow’s return to heat after calving. The BCS indicates the physical condition of a cow. Essentially, it tells you how fat or how thin a cow is. BCS is calculated on a scale from 1-5:

  • 1 = Too thin
  • 5 = Too fat
  • 3 = Optimum condition

Many suckler farmers will reduce the cows intake in late calving to prevent a hard calving, which means cows may be calving down at a body condition score that is not optimal. The negative effect of this is compounded by the extra demand on energy of having to feed the calf.

Target BCS at calving is 2.75-3.0

Target BCS at breeding is 2.5

If your cows are below 2.75 at calving you should consider supplementing their diet with a high energy concentrate or high-quality grass to ensure that that they have a BCS of 2.5 at breeding time.


Heat detection

Recording heat detection during the pre-breeding season allows you to identify what cows are cycling or not cycling before the start of the breeding season. If you can identify what cows are not cycling early (i.e. what cows have gone over 65 days since calving and still haven’t cycled) you can get veterinary intervention to identify the problem and fix it. There are lots of aids you can use to record heat detection these range from expensive high tech solution to more cost effective solutions like tail painting or a simple app like Herdwatch.

 Breeding Cow


Conception rate

The aim should be a 60-70% conception rate to first service, anything less than that indicates that there is a problem somewhere, either with semen quality, AI technique or bull fertility.

First time calvers can have a lower conception rate than mature cows because they are still growing and might need some extra time to recover after calving.



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