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Suckler beef producers are being encouraged to optimise profitability by focusing on maternal performance rather than carcase traits. Maternal performance key to profitable suckler beef

Suckler beef producers are being encouraged to optimise profitability by focusing on maternal performance rather than carcase traits.

When it comes to raising the profit margin, AHDB’s new campaign ‘Maternal Matters’ brings the focus away from carcase traits and back to the maternal performance of the suckler cow.

The importance of maternal characteristics is underestimated in the English suckler herd with only 82% of suckler cows producing a calf each year. This is different from the norm in other countries – including the USA, Canada and Australia.

Improving suckler cow performance was the subject of a Nuffield Farming Scholarship undertaken by Sarah Pick, beef and lamb knowledge exchange manager for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.

Breeding policy

“I wanted to better understand the key drivers of profitability and the practices other countries are implementing to reduce costs,” said Ms Pick. “What really surprised me was that each suckler farmer I visited had a clear breeding policy which focused heavily on maternal attributes.” 

Fertility is five times more important than growth rate and ten times more important than carcase quality to the suckler producer, said Ms Pick. This suggested that producers in the UK might be missing a trick.

Another significant difference between UK suckler herds and others Sarah visited was the age at first calving.

“Calving heifers at two-years of age reduces costs whilst increasing the number of calves the cow produces over her lifetime. In the UK, only 35% of suckler producers implement this practice, however, in other countries it has been commonplace since the 1970s.”

New campaign

The AHDB has now launched a Maternal Matters campaign following the Nuffield study. The work will incorporate key findings from Ms Pick’s scholarship – and focus on heifer development and breeding.

The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness and increase the use of good maternal genetics within the English suckler herd. It will also inform producers of the management and selection practices required to enable greater cow lifetime reproductive performance and profitability.  

With the changes in agricultural payments around the corner, the AHDB says there has never been a more poignant time for suckler herd producers to home in on how they can make their herd more efficient and more profitable.

The Maternal Matters series will look at ways to improve maternal performance and reduce costs, using maternal genetics to breed profitable females, calving heifers at two to reduce cost of production, reducing calf losses and heifer management for rebreeding success.

The first podcast will be released on Monday 18 October. It will hear from case study farmer and AHDB board member James Shouler. He will speak about the benefits he has seen since calving at two years old.

The Maternal Matters podcast will be published at https://ahdb.org.uk/food-farming-podcast.