The effect of management and postnatal factors on cattle herd productivity in Orkney.

14 Mar 2021


By George Peart 

Take-home message: By comparing systems and postnatal factors between farms, cattle producers in Orkney can optimise and improve their productivity from breeding to weaning.

A vast number of variables affect herd productivity in beef suckler systems. By comparing variables between 10 farms in Orkney, Scotland, researchers and farmers aimed to identify aspects of cattle management which had a significant effect on herd productivity, from breeding through to weaning. They also investigated if and how these variables correlated with each other across the farms. The study’s areas of focus included breed, fertility, docility, age at calving, twinning rate, calving ease, calf survival and calf sex.

834 calf records were collected via observation, calving logs and herd management surveys. The researchers used Likert scale analysis to ascertain farmer opinion as well as multivariate and parametric approaches for analysing calving log and production data. They found a number of areas to be significant: “Herds bred primarily with native bulls had greater fertility scores (+3%). Good fertility scores (>95%) were associated with: a 13-week mating period; mating a 4-year-old bull with 21 females; allowing a 6-month and a 5-month grazing period for breeding females and bulls, respectively; housing bulls on non-slatted flooring; and providing a forage-based diet for breeding females. Fertility rates were also associated with a small herd size and a greater percentage of heifers. Housing breeding females on slatted flooring also indicated increased fertility, though this should be investigated further. Compared to heifers, cows had a greater probability of producing twins (+3.18%). The range of twinning between farms was 7.4%. High twinning probability (>3.7%) was associated with a housed spatial provision of 7.7m2 per breeding female and mating breeding females to a good-tempered bull (docility score = 4.1/5).” Shearer, L., University of Aberdeen. The study also showed pre-weaning calf death to be associated with assisted births, malpresentation and caesarean section.

This study was carried out by Leah Shearer as part of her BSc Zoology degree at the University of Aberdeen. Cattle production in the UK varies hugely in terms of management systems, weather and socioeconomic factors. There is no better example of the variation of these pressures than farming in the Orkney Isles. Leah’s research is fantastic because it looks into herd productivity from a number of angles, but also brings in farmer perspective towards each of these to help gather a more accurate understanding. Leah has not only collaborated effectively but managed to incorporate wide-ranging datasets into her research to help Orkney beef producers minimise loss and maximise efficiency.

Congratulations Leah! We wish you every success for the future.

George Peart – BSAS ECC