Four pointers for autumn dairy and suckler breeding

Winter is well and truly here for certain now – ground is gone soft and grazing conditions are very difficult.

Most cattle that will be housed for the winter are now indoors. Many have a big volume of grass left in paddocks, but in reality what value is it right now in the current weather conditions?

Be patient, you might either get some stock to it in the coming weeks if conditions improve or you might not get to it until 2023 – either way, you will get to manage it sooner or later to set up grazing for next year.

The animal must be your focus; maintain performance, be that yield, growth or condition.

Autumn breeding season

The breeding season has begun, or will do soon, for autumn 2023 calving dairy and suckler herds.

Cows, be they milking or rearing a calf, need to be in positive energy to improve conception rates.

Cows that are in a negative energy show poorer signs of heat, have shorter heats and don’t go back in calf as easily.

Cow nutrition for breeding


It is so important to know the quality of your base forage before you devise a feeding plan for any stock.

If you plan to feed no concentrates to your autumn sucklers rearing calves, then you really must have excellent silage. Supplementing silage will almost always be necessary to get cows back in calf and keep supplying sufficient quality milk to calves.

If a suckler cow is losing excessive condition post-calving, she is in negative energy and fertility will suffer. Apart from supplying energy, any concentrates fed to the cow rearing a calf will also supply a source of minerals required to improve reproductive performance.

If you are only feeding straight silage to cows consider a mineral bolus and/or top dress with a mineral. The mineral status of silages this year are variable, so supplementation is essential to boost animal performance.


Matching nutrient supply to the cow’s genetic potential and her parity is very important. Where possible, first and second calvers who are still maturing will benefit from extra supplementation.

Concentrates need to be appropriate to balance the ages being offered, be aware that many silages are again low in protein this season.

Protein is not cheap, but is a critical driver of feed intake, and cows that eat more, have more energy available for milking, solid production, body condition and ultimately fertility performance.

The first thing a cow won’t do is go in calf if she doesn’t get enough energy from calving to service.

Parasite control

When dosing youngstock, it is important to consider the milkers and suckler cows in your dosing plan.

In suckler herds, as part of the BEEP scheme, a lot of herds will have chosen the dung sampling option, so will have information regarding fluke for their cows.

Dairy herds should also consider dung sampling as a management tool post-housing. Whatever about fluke, it is pretty certain after the year that we have had that a significant number of cows will have been exposed to worms.

Wet conditions after dry spells were common this year in both spring and autumn and these are ideal worm conditions.

Get animals dosed as soon as it is appropriate to do so and make sure that you use the products that are most effective for the target parasites.

There is little point in getting your feeding strategy right if your cows are losing condition due to a significant parasite burden.

Parasites can use up energy and be detrimental to cow and heifer fertility performance.

Heat detection aids and breeding event records

Good heat detection is an important element of good fertility in any herd. Keep a record of all heats you see regardless of if you are using an AI or a stock bull. This will allow you to identify cows not cycling.

Identifying cows that are not bulling will allow you to do something about it. Heat detection aids such as activity collars or tags, tail paint and scratch pads are very useful for this.

These cows can be scanned to identify any issues they may have, such as uterine infections or damage caused by a previous calving, which may have gone unnoticed.

If a significant number of cows are not cycling, don’t ignore the possibility that their nutrition may not be up to scratch.

  • Brian Reidy is an independent ruminant nutritionist at Premier Farm Nutrition.


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