By Debbie James

The conflicting demands of running both a large suckler beef herd and a successful off-farm enterprise can be a challenge at key times of the year, not least during the calving period.

But in common with the well-oiled machinery used in his family’s steel fabrication and shed building business, Mark Reynolds makes the system run smoothly by removing potential pitfalls at this critical time.

All his heifers are sired to an Aberdeen Angus bull. “This takes the pressure off the heifers because the calvings are straightforward,’’ says Mr Reynolds.

With heifers still growing when they calve, strategies to prevent difficult calvings protects them from likely setbacks.

Mr Reynolds farms 550 acres on the coastal fringes of Pembrokeshire with his parents, Russell and Debbie, and his wife, Gemma. The couple have two children, Daniel and Millie-Mae.

The home farm is rented from the Dale Castle Estate and it is here that the family runs the 100 cow suckler herd.

The herd includes Limousins and Herefords but is predominately a Belgian Blue dairy cross. The target is to calve the whole herd in eight weeks.

Aberdeen Angus genetics were first used in 2013 because heifers sired with a Limousin were experiencing difficult calvings.

Using an Aberdeen Angus has allowed Mr Reynolds to calve the heifers two months earlier, at 24 months, because the calves are smaller than those produced by Continental breeds.

The bull runs with the heifers for two months, from June 1 to August 1. Pregnancy diagnosis is carried out twice, the first at 42 days after the first four weeks to detect which animals have held in the first cycle.

This allows feed to be better targeted. “We tailor the nutritional needs of the animals to their stage of gestation,’’ says Mr Reynolds.

Anything that isn’t pregnant within eight to nine weeks is culled. “We don’t want to run them on or calve them in the autumn,’’ Mr Reynolds explains.

The herd calves from the second week in March. The cows, which are sired to a Limousin, calve at the same time as the heifers.

Heifers with calves at foot get priority grazing. “They are not mature, they are not like cows with a lot of milk,’’ says Mr Reynolds.

The calves stay with their mothers until the end of November. They are vaccinated with Rispoval and their backs clipped and are housed until the following spring. The cows are housed for up to two weeks to dry off and are then turned onto forage rape and stubble turnips which they graze until the beginning of February, supplemented with big bale silage or haylage.

Weaned calves are fed a bought-in 18 per cent protein coarse mix made up of flake maize, sugar beet and cereals.

Once the calves are consuming 2kg a day they are introduced to a home mix.

Mr Reynolds grows 100 acres of cereals – mostly spring barley but also winter oats and beans. Some of the barley is sold but is also used in the home mix, and the beans provide protein.

“We don’t push the Aberdeen Angus as hard as the Continentals because the home-mix is high in starch and they would be prone to getting a little fat on this.’’

Stores are wintered on round bale silage with a 17 per cent protein home mix of barley, oats, beans, sugar beet pellets, minerals and molasses.

Mr Reynolds aims for a daily liveweight gain of 1kg in the winter and 1.2-1.4kg at grass from April.

Calves are sold at grass in the summer but when is dictated by the weather conditions. “This is quite a dry farm and if we are having a dry summer we might sell them a bit earlier,’’ says Mr Reynolds.