BUILDING a better cow, thinking about animal welfare and navigating the treasure trove of information that comes with Breedplan Estimated Breeding Values were the central themes discussed at Muresk Institute on Thursday last week.
The ‘Build a Better Cow’ event was headlined by Dr Enoch Bergman, Swans Veterinary Services, Esperance, who gave his informative presentation on strategies to improve herd performance and profitability, alongside a discussion on animal welfare and biosecurity from independent agriculture and industry trainer Frances Gartrell and a talk about increasing beef profitability from Bill Cornell, Beef Product manager at ABS Australia.
The event was attended by fresh-faced Muresk students and beef producers who were interested to hear from the presenters about ways through which they could improve their on-farm practices.
Dr Bergman’s discussion focused on building a herd structure which would drive profitability and performance for producers.
One of the central themes of his discussion was about the value of cutting down gestation length and moving heifer calving times forward so heifers have extra time between their first calving and second joining with the main female herd.
“The value of giving your heifers more time to rebound after their first calf is huge,” Dr Bergman said.
“We want to optimise the mating program so we can get as many heifers pregnant in as tight a window as we can as heifers so they can get the calf on the ground without calving trouble and so that she’s ready to go again when the bulls come back in the next time round.”
Dr Bergman also highlighted how much of a difference pregnancy testing made to a business.
“If a producer has 99 per cent conception rate, it’s still worth pregnancy testing because we’re going to save money every time we get rid of an empty,” he said.
“You don’t want to tie up resources to empty females which could be directed towards pregnant females which are going to produce a calf.”
Dr Bergman went on to discuss nutrition prior to and during pregnancy, the importance of learning how to body condition score cattle, micro mineral status and worm control, as well as managing reproductive efficiency through disease prevention.
Another main point made during Dr Bergman’s presentation was about bulls, buying the right bulls in terms of genetics and EBV traits suited to your herd, while taking into account the importance of semen testing and fertility.
“You want your female herd, your heifers in particular, to be set up to succeed and making the right bull choices makes a big difference,” he said.
The discussion went into what the various EBV figures and accuracies mean and how those details can impact a herd, with Dr Bergman singling out gestation length as an EBV often overlooked but of high value.
“Gestation length is my favourite indices because the lower the value, the more time you have prior to the next joining without compromising on the growth and carcase traits,” he said.
Fixed time artificial insemination was another topic which Dr Bergman talked about with enthusiasm.
“Fixed time AI is a great way to push a herd forward, particularly with heifers, because not only would it reduce the genetic turnover interval but it would also remove the need to buy heifer bulls,” he said.
“Using heifer mating as a qualifying test rather than picking out your replacements before hand is a good thing as well – let the AI program pick the winners.
“There’s no tragedy in an empty heifer post mating because that heifer can make good money as a yearling.”
On the topic of AI, Bill Cornell, Beef Production manager from ABS Australia, spoke after Dr Bergman, started off talking about the option of sexed semen, available via ABS.
He covered Breedplan and genomics in his talk, explaining how the numbers are produced and what they mean to a producer looking to buy a bull or semen.
Mr Cornell agreed that fixed time AI was the way of the future, listing the benefits of synchronising females and selecting the right genetics for your beef herd.
To complement the beef focused program, Frances Gartrell presented a timely discussion on animal welfare and on-property biosecurity.
Ms Gartrell went over summaries of guidelines and standards of expectation and responsibility when it comes to WA’s animal welfare laws, focusing on the duty of care of those charged with the care of animals.
The importance of being vigilant when monitoring livestock, not only ensuring safety and reasonable care, but also constantly monitoring for disease, illness and other problems.
“Knowing when to call the vet is so important,” Ms Gartrell said.
“Leaving a potential health risk if you aren’t sure isn’t ideal, so it’s really important to make sure you’re thinking about what the signs of illness and disease are so you can take action as soon as possible.
“Having a management action plan ready to go is a great way to ensure you’re prepared in case something ever did happen.”
Ms Gartell provided attendees with the details for the exotic plant and pest hotline as well as the emergency animal disease watch hotline which she recommended they keep on hand if the need ever arises.
Fit-to-load guidelines and other expectations upon stock handlers were walked through and Ms Gartrell also addressed workplace safety and biosecurity considerations to keep in mind when handling livestock.