Animal Production Science Animal Production Science Society
Food, fibre and pharmaceuticals from animals
REVIEW

A review of factors influencing key biological components of maternal productivity in temperate beef cattle

B. J. Walmsley B E , S. J. Lee C , P. F. Parnell B D and W. S. Pitchford C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Cooperative Research Centre for Beef Genetic Technologies.

B Beef Industry Centre of Excellence, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

C School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Roseworthy Campus, SA 5371, Australia.

D Present address: The Angus Society of Australia, 86 Glen Innes Road, Armidale, NSW 2350, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email: brad.walmsley@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Animal Production Science 58(1) 1-19 https://doi.org/10.1071/AN12428
Submitted: 14 December 2012  Accepted: 27 July 2015   Published: 2 March 2016

Abstract

Cow–calf efficiency or maternal productivity is highly correlated with total system efficiency of beef production. Balancing the needs of the cow herd with other production components is a daily challenge beef producers address to maximise the number of calves born and raised to weaning and, in turn, maximise maternal productivity. Pressure to satisfy modern consumer needs has shifted selection emphasis to production traits at the expense of fitness traits allowing adaptability to decline. Balancing the needs of the cow herd with production objectives presents cow–calf producers with the challenge of genetically tailoring their cattle to modern needs, while sustainably managing these cattle and natural resources. This balancing act is highlighted by the debate surrounding the application of residual feed intake to reduce costs associated with provision of feed for beef production. Some uncertainty surrounds the relationships between efficiency, production and maternal productivity traits. This review examines key components and definitions of maternal productivity. Management decisions as well as cow and calf traits have important interacting impacts on maternal productivity. Achieving a calving interval of 365 days represents the single most important production issue affecting maternal productivity and is dependent on heifer development during early life and energy reserves (i.e. body condition score) in subsequent years. Management issues such as calving date and selection decisions interact with environmental factors such as photoperiod and production traits such as feed intake, and previous production levels, to influence heifer development and cow body energy reserves. Some proposed definitions of maternal productivity simply include weaning weight per cow mated which can be averaged over all progeny weaned during a cow’s lifetime. Ideally, a definition should include the inputs and outputs of maternal productivity. Some definitions express maternal productivity over large time scales, e.g. a cow’s productive lifetime. Most definitions focus on the cow–calf unit, while some include progeny growth and feed intake to slaughter. This review recommends a definition that focuses on the cow–calf unit, as follows: (weight of calf weaned and cow weight change)/(metabolisable energy intake per cow and calf unit). This definition has the capacity to be scaled up, to include progeny postweaning production, as well as being applicable over varying time scales (e.g. 1 year to a cow’s whole productive life). Improvements in all facets of maternal productivity using this definition can be expected to improve beef-production efficiency.

Additional keywords: body condition score, efficiency, heifer development, longevity.


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