Maternal performance is the key to driving profitability in the suckler herd

Monday, 6 September 2021

When it comes to raising the profit margin, AHDB’s new campaign ‘Maternal Matters’ brings the focus away from carcase traits and back to the maternal performance of the suckler cow.

The importance of maternal characteristics is underestimated in the English suckler herd with only 82 per cent of suckler cows producing a calf each year. This is quite a different story from what is considered the norm in other countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia. Improving suckler cow performance became the focus of AHDB’s Beef & Lamb Knowledge Exchange Manager, Sarah Pick’s, 2019 Nuffield Farming Scholarship, sponsored by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and Worshipful Company of Butchers. 

Sarah said: “Being a beef farmer’s daughter and working for AHDB, I understand the challenges suckler farms face. I wanted to do this scholarship to better understand the key drivers of profitability and the practices other countries are implementing to reduce costs. Whilst undertaking my scholarship, what really surprised me was that each suckler farmer I visited had a clear breeding policy which focused heavily on maternal attributes.”

An economic study suggests that fertility is five times more important than growth rate and ten times more important than carcase quality to the suckler producer, so were we missing a trick here in the UK?

Another significant difference between UK suckler herds and others Sarah visited was the age at first calving. Sarah said: “Calving heifers at two-years of age reduces costs whilst increasing the number of calves the cow produces over her lifetime. In the UK only 35 per cent of suckler producers implement this practice, however, in other countries it has been commonplace since the 1970s.”

AHDB’s new Maternal Matters campaign is the brainchild of Sarah Pick following her findings during her scholarship. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness and increase the use of good maternal genetics within the English suckler herd whilst also informing producers of the management and selection practices required to enable greater cow lifetime reproductive performance and profitability. The work will incorporate key findings from Sarah’s study and focus on heifer development and breeding. 

With the changes in agricultural payments around the corner, there has never been a more poignant time for suckler herd producers to home in on how they can make their herd more efficient and more profitable. The Maternal Matters series includes:

  • How improved maternal performance reduces cost
  • Using maternal genetics to breed profitable females
  • Calving heifers at two to reduce cost of production
  • Reducing calf losses
  • Heifer management for rebreeding success


You can follow the activity on Twitter using the hashtag #MaternalMatters. To find out more about the AHDB Maternal Matters campaign visit .