Friday, May 18, 2012

Northern Beef - Production: Making Cows Perform

Productivity among beef herds is about cow productivity.  No calves means no productivity!!

In tropical australia low calving and weaning percentages have long been blamed as a key factor for poor production.  Yes, bulls are needed too - but you need to raise calves.

A recent major project has been slowly releasing some of the first data analyses.  While some of it is not necessarily new, it does put hard data out about major influences and how some producers can do things much better - even in the same area.  and it covers nearly 80000 - yes 80000........cows.

That has to be a significant learning experience for others.

The media report is below.

What makes a Cash Cow?

17 May, 2012 04:00 AM

WITH northern Australia home to the majority of the national breeding herd, it's fitting that a research project on an equally epic scale comprising more than 78,000 head is producing some fascinating insights into cattle fertility across Queensland, the Northern Territory and the north-west of Western Australia.

On the eve of Beef Australia 2012 in Rockhampton last week, more than 100 producers, vets and other researchers involved in the Meat and Livestock Australia-funded Cash Cow project met in Rockhampton to discuss the project's ongoing findings.

The project has, over four years from 2008 to 2011, monitored the reproductive performance of 78,256 breeding females located on 75 commercial beef cattle properties between St George in Queensland and the Kimberley in WA.

It's one of the largest projects ever funded by MLA and has been conducted by researchers from the University of Queensland, DEEDI, Northern Territory Department of Resources, and AusVet Animal Health Services, in collaboration with cattle veterinarians, cattle producers, and data capture provider Outcross Performance.

It set out to answer three main questions - how can producers readily and accurately determine how their breeding herd is performing; why do some breeding mobs achieve expected levels of performance while others don't; and why do some breeding females readily become pregnant after calving and wean a calf while others take much longer to become pregnant or fail to wean a calf.

Project leader, Professor Michael McGowan of the School of Veterinary Science, University of Queensland, said an important finding was that overall half of the breeding mobs monitored achieved weaning rates of less than 70 percent. In the extensive breeding regions of North Queensland, the NT and Kimberley, half of the mobs achieved weaning rates of less than 60pc. However, the top performing 25pc of mobs achieved weaning rates of 80pc.

"Our study has shown that there are herds that are achieving good beef output in what would be considered poorer quality country and they're clearly achieving that through good management," Prof McGowan said.

"The significant thing is that with good management you can achieve good levels of beef output in many of the regions of northern Australia."

Some of the factors which have already been identified from the analysis of the Cash Cow data as having a big impact on the proportion of cows back in calf by four months after calving are:

•Whether a female successfully reared her last pregnancy or not.
•Body condition score at the previous year's pregnancy diagnosis muster.
•The ratio of average faecal phosphorus to metabolisable energy ratio during the first three months of lactation.
•Period of the year of the previous calving.
•Timing of onset and duration of the wet season.

Some of the factors significantly affecting the losses from confirmed pregnancy to weaning which have been identified are:
•Whether a female successfully reared her last pregnancy or not.
•Exposure to hot very hot weather during the month of calving.
•Period of the year when calving occurred.
•The ratio of average crude protein to dry-matter digestibility during the last trimester of pregnancy.
•Body condition score at the time of first annual muster prior to when calving occurred.

Prof McGowan said the Cash Cow analysis team would continue to study the Cash Cow database, which contains more than six million bits of data.

"Technically the research phase of the project will be completed at the end of the year," he said. "We've identified a number of important factors and we will be doing further work over the next couple of months to better understand what is happening with these factors and also identify further factors that may be affecting performance.  "For the first time we have real data, derived from commercial herds, defining the beef output from breeding herds measured as kilos of beef per adult equivalent.  "There is quite a range, but we're also looking at the efficiency with which that beef is produced."

Once complete, the project will among other things, generate an internationally unique database enabling northern Australian beef producers and their advisers to accurately model the potential economic outcome of changing reproductive management.

[ partially sourced Qld Country Life online]

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