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SAC Beef Health Open Day
by Eilidh MacPherson
With reduced labour on farms, farmers are making an effort to attend events that add value to their businesses – this was proof positive at the recent SAC Beef Open Day at Castle Douglas, where farmers were out in force.
Four beef industry icons and two local vets – Graeme Bell and John Stroat – led the talks and discussions at the SAC Beef Animal Health and Welfare Open Day at Donald Biggar’s Corbieton Farm, Castle Douglas recently.
When I arrived on farm, bull fertility was being discussed in the group led by SAC Beef Specialist – Gavin Hill. Apparently one in five bulls have an issue with fertility.
Testing bulls four to six weeks prior to joining is paramount. Bull lameness and back problems can account for a large percentage of herd infertility, says Castle Douglas vet Graeme Bell. He reckoned that a fertile bull should be covering 90% of cows in a 50-60 strong group, over a nine-week period. This comment triggered further debate with the attending farmers, some of which use one sire per 30 - 45 cows. When questioned, Donald Biggar admitted that he ran four groups of 40 cows with a bull for each group and that he wouldn’t chance using only three bulls.
A gingered haired farmer wondered how it would affect the bulls longevity – “will it live fast die young?”
George Caldow, of SAC Veterinary Service, stated that in other countries, like the States and New Zealand, that a sire normally covers 50-60 cows or more. “The bull won’t be hanging about. It is a topic we have been debating for a while.”
“If you are not making the 90% mark it could be a problem with the females. We had eight not in calf – two were twins,” commented Donald.
Gavin Hill then raised the question how many cows should a young bull be given in the first season? The vet replied that small numbers should be introduced to a new, young bull, with a maximum of 20. “A two year old could cope with more. Semen testing and watching how they work are good measurements,” he added.
“Bulls should be fit, agile and athletic. Libido is important, the word randy springs to mind,” smiled Donald.
“In Australia and America they count how times a bull serves a cow. A large part is what you see in the field – the bull in action,” said George.
Ex Monitor farmer and current QMS Board member, Rob Parker, who farms near Stranraer attended the event. He switched from breeding Continental cattle to breeding ‘Black Baldies’ a few years back. “A lot of guys are running into fertility problems and looking into closed herd systems.”
Operating a more traditional cow system Rob has seen turnover come down, but his profits increase. “I’m not topping the sale but I have more calves to sell. My strap line, which I’ve used a lot, is ‘production is vanity, profit is sanity,’” quipped Rob, whose cows are coming back into calve quicker.
Other SAC Specialists that were leading the groups included Dr Basil Lowman on breeding cattle, Rhidian Jones on fattening cattle and Seamus Donnelly on bedding.
Dr Basil Lowman pointed out that one slatted shed, housing mixed aged animals was a breeding zone for pneumonia. “To prevent pneumonia don’t mix ages.”
The afternoon saw the 160 or so farmers move to the Urr Valley Hotel for soup and stovies, followed by an in-depth afternoon programme on BVD and Johnes eradication.
These diseases will be dealt with in the January beef special edition of the magazine.