Does Artificial Insemination Pay? – Part OneWritten by Scott Lake
By Scott Lake, UW Extension Livestock Specialist
As calving season starts to wind down, the days begin to warm up and the grass begins to green, it is time to start making plans for the upcoming breeding season. Decisions regarding bull purchases have either already been made or are quickly forthcoming.
However, artificial insemination (AI) is one of the fastest and most economical ways to improve the genetics of the cowherd.
Utilizing AI allows managers to select for genetically superior animals that would be cost prohibitive to buy. AI also allows you to select proven bulls with much greater accuracy than yearling bulls, an important consideratioin for heifers. In addition to low birth weights, it is possible to select for those “curve bender” bulls that combine both calving ease with high growth and carcass potential.
The majority of beef producers who do utilize AI do so only on their heifers. However, the real value of AI lies within selecting superior bulls for your mature cow herd. This requires additional management complications, such as separating cows and calves. However, AIing the mature cows provides an opportunity to select for high performing bulls without being as concerned with birth weight.
One of the major advantages of synchronization and AI is not only calves with superior genetics, but they are also born earlier in the breeding season. Research from Virginia Tech University has reported that for every day later in the calving season a calf is born, it costs the producer between $1.50-1.65 per head per day, depending upon markets.
Additionally, it’s hard to put a value on the uniformity of calves, but when 65 percent of the calves are conceived on the first day of the breeding season, and the majority of the remaining calves are conceived within the next 21 days because cows were synchronized and given a jump start with progesterone, a tighter calving interval results in a more uniform calf crop which should be very sought after by cattle buyers.
Additional advantages of AI are the reduction in bull power required on the ranch. This not only reduces the total amount of money spent on bulls, but also the yearly cost of maintaining and feeding bulls.
For all the benefits that can be made for using AI, there are some disadvantages as well, such as the need for adequate working facilities and easily accessible pastures, increased handling of cattle, technical expertise and increased time and labor.
For most AI protocols, cattle must be worked at least three times within a fairly short period of time, usually 10 days. This requires adequate handling facilities to work cattle quickly, efficiently and in a low-stress environment.
Labor is probably the biggest reason that producers do not AI cattle. It takes significant labor to work cattle numerous times within a short period of time.
Probably the most time consuming portion, however, is heat detection. To properly watch heat, it takes commitment. If your heat watch routine is to watch for an hour first thing in the morning and again last thing in the evening, then you will probably not achieve the success in your AI program as you would like. Research has shown that over 50 percent of your heifers may come into heat in the middle of the night or at midday. Therefore, heats should be checked the majority of the morning and the majority of the evening.
For many combined farming and ranching operations, heat detection and AI occur at one of the busiest times, during field preparation, planting and early irrigation runs.
Arguments are made that suggest that synchronizing the herd will result in a need for additional bulls because those females that did not breed will all start cycling again within a short period of time. Most reproductive physiologists will tell you that a bull can breed the same number of cows in a very short period of time as he can over a longer, normal breeding season.
However, the limiting factor will be the size of the pasture. Will he be able to cover the ground needed and find those “heats” in a short period of time and will he breed one cow and move on, rather than stay with that one cow.
In this week’s Extension column, Scott Lake looked at the advantages and disadvantages of utilizing artificial insemination (AI). In next week’s column, he will explore several AI protocols and options that producers have.