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Extension by Dallas Mount

Written by Dallas Mount
Bulls vs AI: the Cost Side
By Dallas Mount, UW Extension Educator

    Watching the results from this winter’s bull sales made me wonder: when does AI become cheaper than natural service?  
    Perhaps you have already considered this for your operation, but allow me to think through it with you.
    First, let’s consider the cost of bulls. If you pay $5,000 for a bull and salvage him for $1,000 and the average bull is used three years, then his cost is $1,300 per year. Add in pasture and other feed valued at $400 per year and we are approaching $2,000 per year for each bull. If he breeds 20 cows his cost is $100 per pregnancy, if he breeds 30 then it is $66 per pregnancy. Considering that the profit per cow for most cow-calf ranches I have analyzed this year is around $100 per cow, so is this variation between $60 and $100 is highly significant!
    The cost of AI is generally easier to figure because most costs come as direct cost in synchronization drugs, semen and labor. A common estrus synchronization system is the seven-day CIDR plus timed AI. Generally this runs around $45 per cow ($20 semen/service, $20 sync drugs, $5 labor). If your pregnancy rates are around 60 percent then cost per pregnancy is around $75 – very similar to natural service. Of course you will still need to maintain some clean-up bulls, so that cost needs to be added in, as well. Improving conception rates will obviously reduce the cost of AI per pregnancy significantly.
    I’m not advocating for either of these choices, simply weighing the options and costs of each option. Perhaps your operation is not set up to work the cows at breeding season, or perhaps you have been considering using AI and the higher bull cost have now made it a cost-effective option. Either way, I hope this article has helped you weigh the alternatives of an important management decision for your operation.