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«Department of Ruminant Science, Agriculture University of Szczecin, Poland RENATA PILARCZYK and JERZY WÓJCIK Comparison of body weight and ...»

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Arch. Tierz., Dummerstorf 51 (2008) 4, 318-328

Department of Ruminant Science, Agriculture University of Szczecin, Poland


Comparison of body weight and reproduction performance in cows

of various beef breeds managed under equal conditions in West



The aim of the study was to compare the body weight and the parameters of reproductive performance in beef

cows of various breeds following their import to Poland from 1995-1997. The analyses included cows of five beef breeds: Red Angus, Salers, Hereford, Limousin and Simmental. We have compared the body weights and calving intervals during the period from their arrival to Poland in 1995 until 2002, with subsequent calvings included in the analyses. Other aspects included calving difficulty, abortions, stillbirths and twin births. The analysis of the cows’ reproductive performance has revealed that the studied breeds differ in the calving interval.

Best results were achieved by Simmental and Limousine cows, while Red Angus cows exhibited the poorest performance. The effect of subsequent calving on the calving interval was also confirmed. We have observed no differences among the mature cows with respect to the body weight and calving ease.

Keywords: beef cattle, breeds, body weight, calving interval, calving ease Zusammenfassung Titel der Arbeit: Vergleich von Körpergewichten und Reproduktionsmerkmalen von Kühen verschiedener Fleischrinderrassen unter einheitlichen Bedingungen in Westpommern Ziel der Arbeit war der Vergleich von Körpergewicht und Reproduktionsmerkmalen von Kühen verschiedener Fleischrinderrassen aus Importen nach Polen zwischen 1995 bis 1997. Einbezogen waren die Fleischrinderrassen Red Angus, Salers, Hereford, Limousine und Simmental. Im Zeitraum von 1995 bis 2002 wurden bei 549 Kühen das Körpergewicht, die Zwischenkalbezeit und die Merkmale des Geburtsverlaufes – auch bei nacheinander folgenden Abkalbungen – sowie die Zwillingsgeburten erfasst. Bei den Reproduktionsmerkmalen unterschieden sich die verglichenen Rassen hinsichtlich der Zwischenkalbezeit. Die besten Ergebnisse erreichten die Rassen Simmental und Limousine, die schlechtesten die Tiere der Rasse Red Angus. Auch bei den nachfolgenden Geburten bestand ein Einfluss auf die Zwischenkalbezeit. Während die jüngeren Kühe sich hinsichtlich ihres Körpergewichts signifikant unterschieden, war das Gewicht der älteren Kühe relativ ausgeglichen. Beim Geburtsverhalten konnten keine Unterschiede zwischen den verglichenen Rassen nachgewiesen werden.

Schlüsselworte: Fleischrind, Rasse, Körpergewicht, Zwischenkalbezeit, Geburtsverlauf Introduction Beef production in Poland is mostly based on the breeds that are managed for dairy or dairy-beef purposes. Farming the typically beef cattle in Poland has not really started until the beginning of the 1990s, when the “Programme for Beef Cattle Breeding Development in Poland” was implemented. This government strategy involved financial aid for the producers in the form of subsidies and low-interest loans, which soon resulted in an increased import of pure-bred breeding heifers, most often from Europe (France, Denmark, Germany, the Czech Republic and others), but also, to a lesser extent, from the USA and Canada.

Beef cattle breeds represent various biological types, well adapted to various Arch. Tierz. 51 (2008) 4 environments and production systems representing different feed, climate, land resources and marketing situation. Breed diversity can be used to fit the genetic resources quickly to production and market requirements (FRELICH et al., 1998;

GOLCE, 2001; JAKUBEC et al., 2003; DAKAY et al., 2006).

Over the recent decades we have witnessed changes in the utilisation of various breeds in beef production, with intensive selection targeting different traits in different breeds of cattle. Selection of breeds of medium frame sizes puts emphasis on their growth rate rather than calving ease or low body weight at birth, which is the case in the selection of large-frame-size cattle (NÚÑEZ-DOMINGUEZ et al., 1993).

It is a rule in beef cattle management that cows are used only for reproduction and calf nursing. A successful nurse cows management depends mostly on the normal reproduction process, high mean daily gain and total body weight attained by the calf at weaning, as well as the longevity of the cows (ROUGHSEDGE et al., 2001). Good results of reproduction and successful calf rearing underlie the profitability of a beef farm. The herd reproduction parameters, including calving interval and calving ease, have a considerable impact on the financial outcomes of fattening and the management of the breeding stock. Difficulties at parturition represent the major cause of calf mortality and impair both the liveliness of the calf and the milk yield of the dam, while post-partum complications lead to infertility-based culling of the cows.

Identifying superior breeds would be simple if adequate life-cycle performance data were available on large representative samples of the breed of potential interest.

Comparisons would need to be made among cattle breeds raised under the same conditions and preferably over a range of conditions to evaluate the possibility of genotype × environment interactions. Unfortunately, such ideal comparisons require a large input of financial resources (JAKUBEC et al., 2003).

The studied farm applied an equal, outdoor housing system for all the analysed breeds and equal maternal nursing conditions. Moreover, the semen of modern-type bulls (polled Simmental, Limousin and Hereford) has been increasingly used for insemination on the farm. Hence the aim of this study, which was to compare reproductive performance and body weight of cows of various beef breeds over a several years' period following the import of the cows to Poland on a farm where cows are systematically inseminated with the semen of modern-type polled bulls.

Material and methods The studies were carried out in West Pomerania at the “Agrofirma Witkowo” Cooperative, where the management system consists in all-year outdoor housing with maximum utilisation of pastures and maternal nursing of calves until the age of 7-9 months.

The analyses included cows of five beef breeds:

– 144 Red Angus (pregnant heifers imported from Canada in December 1995) – 57 Salers (pregnant heifers imported from Canada in December 1995) – 70 Hereford (pregnant and non-pregnant heifers imported from Denmark in 1997) – 105 Limousin (pregnant and yearling heifers imported from France in 1997) – 173 Simmental (pregnant heifers imported from the Czech Republic in 1996) The oestrous synchronisation of the cows and heifers took place during the first days of April each year. Artificial insemination was carried out from April until July.

The semen of prime bulls was used to inseminate all breeding cows that exhibited PILARCZYK and WÓJCIK: Comparison of body weight and reproduction performance in cows symptoms of the normal oestrus. The Red Angus, Hereford and Simmental cows were sired by polled bulls from Canada and the USA, the Salers cows by Canadian bulls, while the Limousin cows by polled bulls from Canada, the USA, and France. In June until mid-July, bulls were included into the herd in order to serve the cows still not in calf. Calvings took place from December until the end of April the following year.

Nursing cows were gathered in groups in which the calves were of similar age (less than a month difference) and remained on an enclosure with an access to a shelter against snow or rain. Feeding of the cows (with haylage, hay and mineral supplement) took place outdoors in deep wooden mangers and non-freezing waterers. From May until the end of October, the cows with their calves remained grazing all day, returning to their enclosures for the night. From November onwards, the cows remained on enclosures with wind shelters made of bales of straw. Every day, the animals visited neighbouring fields of oilseed rape or ryegrass. Their grazing diet was supplemented with hay, straw, silage made of conditioned green forage with addition of mineral feed; salt licks were also provided.

The calving intervals were compared over the period between the moment when the animals arrived to Poland and the year 2002, in relation to subsequent calvings. The degree of calving difficulty, percentage of abortions, stillbirths, and twin births were also examined. During the period from the moment of import until 2002, the cows were weighed on each calving (from 1 to 6).

Statistical calculations were performed using procedures of STATISTICA PL 7.1.

Means and standard deviations were calculated. Two-way ANOVA with interaction in non-orthogonal experimental design was also used. The significance of differences between the groups was tested with the Duncan test. Differences were considered as

significant at the level of 0.05 and 0.01. The following statistical model was used:

yijk = μ + αi + βj + (αβ)ij + εijk where: yijk = studied variable, μ = overall mean, αi = fixed effect of breed, βj = fixed effect of calvings, (αβ)ij = interaction of breed and calvings, εijk = random error.

Results The analysis of the mean cow body weights (Table 1) has demonstrated that the lowest body weight until the 3rd calving was found in the Red Angus cows, while between the 4th and the 6th calving – in the Simmental cows. Intensive body weight gains were recorded from the 3rd calving, which resulted from intensive growth and development of the young cows, whereas the growth between the 4th and the 6th calvings was already low. A significant (P≤0.01) effect of subsequent calving and the breed on the body weight was observed, as well as a significant (P≤0.01) breed × subsequent calving interaction effect.

The Red Angus cows were of significantly (P≤0.01) lower body weight compared to any of the remaining four breeds after the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd calving. After the 1st and the 2nd calving, the Simmentals were heaviest – their body weights were significantly (P≤0.01) higher than those of the remaining breeds after the first calving and the Red Angus cows (P≤0.01) as well as Salers (P≤0.05) after the 2nd calving. After the 3rd calving, the Hereford cows had the highest body weight, significantly higher than the other breeds. After the 4th, 5th and 6th calvings, the highest body weights were observed in the Salers cows with significant (P≤0.01) differences, however, observed only after the 4th calving as compared with the Red Angus, Limousin and Simmental cows. The Arch. Tierz. 51 (2008) 4

–  –  –

Discussion Cows grow most intensively until they reach 4 years of age, with the growth rate dropping considerably past 4-5 years of age. The highest body weight gains are recorded between the 2nd and 3rd year. A four-year-old cow attains approx. 89 % of her final body weight. The target height is reached by the cows before they attain their maximum body weight, with three-year-old cows having 96 % of a mature cow’s height (ARANGO et al., 2002). MATTHES and RUDOLPH (1999) reported similar results on growth in different beef breeds. Similar average body weights for the same breeds of cows have been reported by LAMB et al. (1993) for the period between 1970 and 1984. Angus cows reached on average 580 kg in body weight, Hereford 598 kg, Limousine 595 kg and Simmental 601 kg. The present results do not differ substantially from those reported from the Polish herds (KLUPCZYŃSKI and MICIŃSKI, 2000;

PIASECKI et al., 2000; POGORZELSKA and SZAREK, 2002).

The differences we have found between body weights of adult cows (after the 4th calving) in all the studied breeds were not very high. In a majority of cases, those differences were from a few kilograms to 20-40 kg. The highest body weights from the 3rd and 4th calvings were found in the Salers cows, as expected, since this particular breed is of a large size. The performance attained by the Hereford and Angus cows deserves special attention. Those cows, until recently called “small British breeds” in Poland, achieved from the 3rd and 4th calving (i.e. mature cows) larger body weights than Simmental, the breed considered as a one with a large body size. The Limousin cows body weights were similar to Red Angus, however lower than those of the Hereford cows. In a body-weight-competition ranking of cattle breeds, the Salers breed (with its highest body weight) would be ranked ahead of the others, followed by Hereford, jointly Limousin and Red Angus and Simmental.

Arch. Tierz. 51 (2008) 4 According to SULLIVAN et al. (1999), genetic differences between the breeds and relative rankings of particular breeds have been changing over the last decades due to differences in genetic trends. Those growing trends for the body weight were stronger for the light-weight breeds of cattle, which has resulted in diminishing differences between these and other, heavier breeds. Hereford cattle, for example, increased body weight during the period 1985-1995, and now these cattle at age of 365 days exhibit larger body weights than the Limousin. It has also been forecast that Angus cattle may by the year 2017 attain larger body weight at age than Charolais or Simmental.

The expected progeny difference (EPD) survey carried out in the USA during 1970has revealed that the fastest progress for the body weight at birth, at weaning, and in 365 days had been achieved for Hereford and Angus. Also positive, though not that spectacular changes were achieved by other breeds. For Simmental, however, weight at birth decreased, which implies that actual selection objectives may differ between breeds. Improved growth and a larger body frame size were the primary selection objectives for Angus and Hereford, while it was important to lower the weights at birth for Simmental in order to reduce calving difficulty with sustained positive trends for the weight at weaning and in 365 days (NOTTER and CUNDIFF, 1991).

The Hereford and Angus cattle still have an opinion in Poland of being “small breeds”.

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