Female-side breeding - a commercial necessity


French cattle (and sheep) are more productive by a commercially crucial 10 – 15%. Meal costs for Salers, €0.33/kg live weight are by some way, the lowest of French breeds, writes Professor Jim Mason.

Female-side breeding - a commercial necessity

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French cattle (and sheep) are more productive by a commercially crucial 10 – 15%. Meal costs for Salers, €0.33/kg live weight are by some way, the lowest of French breeds, writes Professor Jim Mason.

The following article has been compiled by Professor Jim Mason.

Irish Salers breeders regularly visit farms in France. French cattle are ‘pedigrees’ in our terms, i.e. pure-breds, but they are run as commercial herds, not “show-cattle”, hence the very strong emphasis on selection for commercially relevant maternal traits such as pelvic-aperture; milk; and fertility on which, production and thus profits, depends.

For Salers, the sale of breeding females is more important than bulls. The 55,000 or so recorded Salers cows (24% of total breed numbers) produce 0.96 per cow, with a calving interval of <375 days.

Some farms, for example, GAEC Garcelon, regularly exceed 1 calf per cow, since twins are not unusual in Salers. Thus, 225 cows produced 230 calves in 2015; 192 produced 192 in 2014 and 220 produced 226 in 2013.

CROSS-BREEDING

French breeds (cattle and sheep) are generally more productive and French breeders are surprised at our appetite for cross-breeding, they think it introduces female unpredictability, particularly the multiple cross-breeding.

One could even say that our pedigree bulls (and rams) are used to try to put an order on disorder. Cross-bred cows are rare in France (as in Europe generally), rather less than 8% of the total.

In Normandie, where there are a few cross-bred sucklers (28,000), mainly Charolais or Limousin (or even Belgian Blue) X Normande or Holstein, their performance is very notably poorer than the local Salers, thus calf losses are 13% v. 3%.

In Ireland, we produce 850,000 calves a year from well over a million sucklers - a significant underperformance compared to France. The average here is around 0.80 per cow, with the bottom 15% at around 0.70; calving interval around 400 days.

Overall, French figures, all breeds, touch 0.90 with French Salers topping at 0.96; French cattle (and sheep) are more productive by a commercially crucial 10 – 15%.

SALERS - CALVING EASE

The easy calving of Salers cows is clear in all surveys, worldwide. It is most evident in first calvers and this is illustrated below, as a % for heifers of breeds of Irish interest.

No assistance Light pull Calving Jack Caesarian
Salers 92 6 1 0
Limousin 84 12 4 1
Aubrac 81 15 3 1
Blonde 63 26 8 3
Parthenaise 51 32 10 7
Charolais 48 34 9 9
Belgian Blue 5 3 3 89

Low birth weight & larger maternal pelvic opening

This core value of easy-calving is, of course, related to the relatively low birth weight of Salers calves and to the larger maternal pelvic opening. These are maintained by selection and the key criteria are illustrated in the bull sale catalogue.

The IFNAIS, “Index Facilité de Naissance”, or calving ease, is basically calf birth weight (80% of the index); the lower the birth weight, the higher the index.

Note also, that the internal pelvic aperture of all the bulls passing through the Salers Test Station is measured and internal comparative pelvic width’s (BIM) and height’s (HSP) are presented in the sales catalogue.

These are used to calculate a” pelvic opening”, OP, index, which since 2013, constitutes 22.6% of the key Overall Index, IMOCR, of the bull on test.

Some 1 in 5 cows needs assistance at calving in Ireland and a colleague in Grange indicated that 25% of difficult calvers are subsequently anoestrus.

SALERS BULL TEST STATION - SELECTION CRITERIA

Particular attention is paid to the maternal (and paternal grandmother) reproductive performance. Thus, the calving interval of the 100 or so mothers of the bulls we see annually is typically (92.5%) 362-367 days for 6 calvings (75.5%).

In Ireland, the average suckler calving interval is around 400 days with the bottom 15% at more than 430 days - both indicative of the fertility problems and lack of selection for maternal traits.

In France, Alait - the dam’s milking ability, and IVMat - the overall maternal performance, loom large in selection for admission.

French buyers pay close attention to these indices and see them as fundamental in the retention of the breeds, excellent milk capacity.

Suckled Salers, or their mothers, are very rarely meal fed in France. In general, in most breeds in Ireland, the traditional heavy concentrate feeding of the “pedigree” herds supplying bulls partially disguises lack of maternal milk.

Recent publicity also highlighted the significant covert presence of milky foster mothers in the pedigree herds. Grange results have clearly shown how crucial maternal milk yields are and that weaning weight advantages gained at this stage are still evident at finishing.

TEST STATION AIMS

A composite index (IMOCR) in the Salers Bull Sale Catalogue takes into account growth (CR) (36.9%); conformation (DM) (21.6%) and very notably, internal pelvic size (OP) (22.6%); however, it is important to realise that the feed regime at the Station is designed to measure a bull’s ability to use roughage not concentrates.

This is in common with some other breeds in France, notably Aubracs. They are fed quality hay ad lib; but limited to only 4kg of meal per day, in the 16-week “intensive phase”. This contrasts with Tully, where they were fed meal ad-lib and consumed some 11-12-13kg per day.

They are fit but not fat, certainly not in the show condition of most bulls sold in Ireland, and are ready to go to cows immediately with little in the way of fertility problems; laminitis; or the typical melt-down of the Irish show-fed animal.

Teagasc estimates some 30% of Irish bulls are sub-fertile and recommend a “slimming-down” phase before usage. The ability to grow well on roughages, that is grass; silage; or hay is becoming crucial as meal prices increase. In any event. grass is our main asset. The roughage-based Salers Test feed regime is thus designed to assess the Salers ruminal ability/capacity to power growth.

Comparison with other breeds shows that Salers cows have a higher rumen capacity (up to 15%) hence their ability to feed calves without supplementation. Meal costs for Salers, €0.33/kg live weight, are by some way, the lowest of French Breeds (others €0.38-0.61/kg).

A rough assessment of an animal’s rumen capacity can be made from body depth just in front of the hind legs. The tight-bodied show-type animal may look well but lacks the ability to use roughage.

DATA ON IRISH AI BULLS

In view of the selection basis of Salers, it is not surprising that in recently published ICBF, all-breed maternal figures, the top three bulls were Salers; Beguin; Ulsan; and Vaillant.

By Professor Jim Mason.

Main image: Irish Salers Cattle Society \ website.

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