Minimum requirements for beef cows

Even though breeding cows on hills are generally considered to be the flexible stock class on those hills, to not allow them to meet some minimum objectives consigns them to be low earners.

Much of what we advise for ewes to increase their performance applies to cows as well. Unlike ewes, for which the whole package of conception rate, lamb survival and lamb weaning weight contribute reasonably equally to their profitability, for cows their profit lies mostly in their reproductive performance. Weaning 300kg calves means little to no profit if only 75 calves are weaned per 100 cows mated. For cows to be profitable, they must wean plenty of calves. If that is over 85 calves weaned per 100 cows mated then that herd's profit is largely in the bag.

By now the number of calves inside the cows is set so the total focus goes on maximising the survival of those calves. It just happens that the same feeding that maximises calf survival also supports a good lactation. Cow condition and feeding in the 3 to 4 weeks before calving is where the impact can be made. Not that it is possible to put condition on cows in the month before calving.

Before we get there though, it is quite okay to make cows work after weaning. In fact, losing some condition will increase their lifetime production. The problem with this message is how much condition can be taken off them. The objective is for them to calve in body-condition score 5 or more. Knowing how much condition they can lose over the winter should be driven by their required calving condition.

Sorting out the light ones that cannot lose any more condition, and will produce more if they gain some condition, needs to start early in the winter. This means drenching them and then allocating extra feed. We have seen dramatic responses to drenching light beef cows.

The other key to maximising beef cow performance without going overboard in how much feed is allocated to them, is feeding them enough to enable them to reach their maximum lactation height. The total amount of milk that they will produce is driven by how high the peak lactation is. For most herds, the majority of cows will be reaching peak lactation over the 2 or 3 weeks starting 45 days after calving begins. This is leading into the time when mating begins, so maximising the peak lactation will also maximise the conception rate.

These dates should be put in the diary. At this stage, it is putting in the calving date, coming back 30 days and then another entry 45 days after the start of calving. These then become prompts that hopefully will trigger some management actions.