Good fertility is the most important factor in achieving productivity in Declan Rafferty’s suckler beef system. By ensuring that the herd’s trace element needs are met, Declan achieves a nine-week calving pattern year after year.
Declan runs a herd of 100 Simmental-cross, Limousin-cross, Stabiliser and Aberdeen Angus cows at Pomeroy, County Tyrone, on the 63 hectares he farms with his brother-in-law, Aidan Quinn.
70% of the herd calves in the spring and the remainder in an autumn block. Declan’s target service period is May 15th to August 1st.
The farmland has high levels of molybdenum, a chemical element which locks up copper. “We need to provide additional sources of copper to get the herd cycling,” Declan explains.
At turnout pre-breeding, cows and bulling heifers are bolused with Tracesure Cattle with Copper, a leaching trace element bolus that provides iodine, selenium, copper and cobalt.
“I had 54 cows calve in 20 days this year, that’s over 70% of cows calved in the first 20 days,” he reports. “With mineral levels as high as they can be, there are no problems.”
Two years ago, he realised the value of the boluses to his system when he turned youngstock out to grass without bolusing. “They just didn’t thrive. We got advice from different sources and decided to bolus and that turned the cattle around.”
Heifers are also given the Copasure bolus to provide a sustained-release source of copper for absorption from the gut. This steady supplementation ensures adequate copper status but avoids the sharp rises in copper levels which can be associated with copper toxicity.
Declan synchronises heifers and achieved a 70% conception rate to first service in 2017. He describes fertility as crucially important to his business. “Any cows that don’t get in calf in the first nine weeks have to be replaced because I want a nice compact calving and a low replacement rate,” he says.
“It is crucially important from a labour and management point of view, to be able to carry out application and other jobs at the same time, and also to have uniform batches of cattle to sell.”
The cattle that he finishes are also bolused with Tracesure Cattle with Copper at turnout. “We are averaging 2kg of daily live weight gain – 2.3kg in the Aberdeen Anguses, 2kg in the Stabilisers and 1.9kg in the Limousin-crosses and Simmental-crosses,” says Declan.
Stabilisers are a recent introduction to the herd – the first heifers calved this spring.
“The cows were getting a bit big because we had been using Simmental and Limousins for a number of years. The Stabiliser is a more moderate type of cow,” Declan explains.
Grazed grass is central to the system. Thirty acres is split into 16 paddocks and grazed rotationally.
“Cows are going into a good plane of nutrition all the time,” says Declan. “The stock are in good condition. Happy cows make a happy farmer!”
Although his fertility results are sufficient proof to Declan that his herd has the correct levels of trace elements, blood samples have confirmed this. His farm was involved in the Northern Ireland Suckler Beef Programme, a joint initiative between the Irish Farmers Journal, CAFRE and ABP. “As part of that programme we were asked to blood sample. The samples from our herd had the best levels of copper and iodine in the group.”
Declan is pleased with the performance of the boluses – and says other farmers he knows are recognising the value of his bolus system.
“We are getting far more rainfall and that is resulting in minerals leaching out of the soil so there is less availability for livestock,” he says.
“Yes there is a cost to bolusing but it is working for us, so we won’t stop.”