This good practice has been implemented to optimize the number of calves per year per cow in suckler herds, which is related to the Production Efficiency and Meat Quality thematic area from BovINE. The heifers should give birth to their first calf as soon as possible but not too young to prevent negative effects on health and  maturity. So the right timing of the first mating is the key factor for a long and productive life of the suckler cow and highly important for the reproduction efficiency of the herd

To optimize timing of first mating of the young suckler cows, not only age but especially weight and physical maturity are essential for a successful decision. Only very few farms in Germany have the possibility to weight their animals. To estimate the body weight and therefore the timing of mating, the usage of a special measuring tape comes as a very useful tool. The measuring tape is placed around the thorax of the animal. Beside a scale to show the circumference of the thorax a scale for the estimated weight is shown. The target is a mating at approximately 60% of expected body weight when fully grown. Different measuring tapes for different breeds are available. The tapes are not as accurate as a weighing machine but still more accurate than just estimating by sight. It’s a very good and helpful tool to help approach the optimal timing of first mating. To ensure repeatable results it’s important always to measure at the same spot at the thorax and that the animals get measured ideally by the same person every time.

A monthly usage of the measuring tape can be sufficient, a more accurate timing can be reached by weekly measuring. Also possible is an interval of measuring every two weeks

By measuring weight instead of estimating by sight the best timing for first mating can be closely approached. Thus the farmer can ensure that the heifers doesn’t get pregnant too early in life so negative effects on health and later pregnancies can be avoided. But also the heifers don’t get too old so the farmer doesn’t waste precious time before first calving. With the method of measuring weight by measuring tape the timing of first mating/calving can be optimized alongside with the number of calves per cow per year. This has a very positive impact of production efficiency. The good practice also has a positive impact on animal health and welfare as too early mating can cause severe health problems for calf and cow. The good practice has positive effects of socio-economic resilience as optimization of first calving improves economic efficiency of beef cattle farms. The investment for the measuring tape is negligible.

Picture by LK Salzburg