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Evaluating the reproductive performance of British beef and dairy herds using national cattle movement records
  1. M. C. Gates, BSc VMD MRCVS
  1. Epidemiology Group, Centre for Immunity, Infection and Evolution, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Ashworth Laboratories, Kings Buildings, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, UK
  1. E-mail for correspondence: m.c.gates{at}sms.ed.ac.uk

Abstract

National cattle movement databases provide a valuable opportunity to monitor the reproductive performance of breeding cattle on an industry-wide scale. In this analysis, records from the Cattle Tracing System database were used to derive key measures of reproductive efficiency for British beef and dairy herds, including calving spread, age at first calving, calving interval, culling rate and calf mortality rate. At the animal level, only 8.5 per cent of beef heifers and 6.9 per cent of dairy heifers calved by the target age of 24 months. The average calving interval was 394 days for beef dams (median: 371) and 426 days for dairy dams (median: 400). Differences in performance were noted between cattle breeds. An estimated 43.9 per cent calves born in dairy herds were crossbreed beef animals, which may limit the availability of replacement dairy heifers. At the herd level, calving spread and calf mortality rates increased with herd size, while average age at first calving, calving interval, and crossbreeding generally decreased with herd size. Dam age, calving month, breed and twinning were significant risk factors for culling and calf mortality at the animal level. Wide variation in performance between individual herds highlights the potential for improving the efficiency of British cattle production.

  • Cattle
  • Reproduction
  • Herd health
  • Accepted July 18, 2013.

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