Managing breeder herds in the dry season

Northern Australian graziers are encouraged to consider breeder herd management as the dry season approaches.

Department of Agriculture and Fisheries beef extension officer Kacie Buchanan says year-round mating sees many calves born during the dry season, when low-quality feed makes it difficult to meet the nutritional demands of lactating cows.

“The consequences of this are high mortalities and low rebreeding rates,” Ms Buchanan said.

“Several management strategies can be implemented into year-round mated systems to improve rebreeding rates, reduce supplementation and mustering costs, decrease mortality rates and increase profit margins.”

The first step requires extra paddocks to keep first and second-calf heifers in separate groups to the main breeder herd. This ensures controlled mating and supplementation can be targeted when required.

First-calf heifers commonly miss their second conception due to the nutritional demands associated with rearing a calf and the heifer’s own growth demands, so segregating these for extra care is also important.

“Ensuring that heifers calve when pasture quality and quantity is high increases their chance of getting back in calf and decreases the need for supplements,” Ms Buchanan said.

“If you want to take a step further, segregating the main breeder herd into different classes can reduce stock handling and unnecessary supplementation costs, and enable tailored nutritional management.

“You can segregate the breeder herd into wet and dry groups, or even further segregate the dry group based on foetal ageing and expected time of calving.

“If you segregate the herd into wet and dry groups only, you won’t need as much paddock infrastructure or labour. However, it’s harder to target supplementation.

“Further segregating the dry group based on calving time enables you to better target nutrition to calving time and reduces mustering costs, as all calves will be a similar age for branding and weaning.

“However, you need more paddock infrastructure and a skilled foetal aging professional.

“These breeder management strategies need to be used in conjunction with good grazing land management, early weaning, supplementation, vaccination and culling for age and fertility.

To learn more about these strategies, please visit the FutureBeef website or speak to your local beef extension officer.

“Implementing a large change in breeder management can feel overwhelming, but focusing on your heifers first and then moving to your breeders over time can greatly improve the productivity and profitability of your business,” Ms Buchanan said.

Please note the above strategies are generalised advice and may not apply to your specific situation.