Sexed semen creates new choicesWritten by Heather Hamilton
With increased input costs and a general reduction in available grass, many producers have to look outside the box to find ways to increase profit margins. Increasing marketable pounds is almost always a sure way to increase return for commercial producers, but can be difficult to implement due to a variety of limiting factors.
Increasing a rancher’s bull calf crop to 90 plus percent without increasing overall cow numbers would be a great option. Today it is more than an option through the use of Sexed semen, which is created and marketed by Sexing Technologies.
Sexed semen is just that, semen sorted by sex of the sperm cells. When purchasing this semen, a producer essentially chooses whether he wants bull or heifer calves. Used extensively in the United States dairy industry, Sexed semen is also a consideration for beef cattle producers.
“Sexing Technologies is making a full court press on the beef industry to portray the economic value of Sexed semen,” states Director of Beef Programs with Sexing Technologies Dustin Dean.
The company holds the patent on Sexed semen and produces and markets it around the world. The most popular breed is Angus and it is often crossed with exotic breeds outside the United States to get a more marketable F1 calf. They also produce bucking bull, Quarter Horse, deer and elk Sexed semen.
“I think that the great thing about Sexed semen is that you get an option you never had before. In beef cattle situations where one sex is worth more than the other it needs to be seriously considered,” says Dean.
Dean adds that producers need to look at logistics and consider Sexed semen as an option. If ranchers lack the manpower or facilities to utilize an AI program it may not be a viable option. However, if a rancher already AI’s all or part of his cows he can easily acquire Sexed semen from bull studs, sire directories or even have his own bull collected.
The benefit to collecting on a rancher’s own bull is that he can go to a sale and purchase exactly what he wants, then use it on his herd to produce almost exclusively bull or heifer calves.
If a rancher wants to have his bull collected he must deliver the bull to a Sexing Technologies lab. There are currently labs in Wisconsin and Texas, but Dean says the company is actively pursuing the installation of sexing technology machines in new locations. These locations will make it more economical for producers to collect on their own bull.
Conception rates are approximately 85 percent of the rate a rancher gets with conventional AI. The higher a producer’s AI conception rate, the higher his Sexed semen conception rate will be. As with traditional AI, heifers tend to have higher conception rates than cows.
The offset of the lower conception rate is that over 90 percent of the offspring will be of the desired sex.
“When we make a straw of Sexed semen each individual sperm cell is examined and selected one by one. Only the top 20 percent of semen is packed into the straw, which results in a slightly lower conception rate. It’s a lower dose of semen but you’re only getting the best swimmers and 100 percent of unusable cells are sorted out,” explains Dean.
The cost is a few dollars more per straw than conventional semen. But, when this is compared to the value difference between steer and heifer calves it is typically a sound investment. “People have reservations regarding Sexed semen when they don’t take the time to consider the value it creates for them,” explains Dean.
He adds that the potential to create a crossbreeding system without sacrificing a maternal cowherd is one example of this. Using Sexed semen from a Charolais bull on Angus cows and getting over 90 percent bull calves would increase calf size but eliminate the problem of also marketing the undesirable “smoky” heifer calves.
The same producer could use Angus Sexed semen on his first calf heifers and have almost all Angus heifer calves. These would be his replacements and would take advantage of the producer’s most progressive genetics. He would only have as many heifers as he needed to maintain or expand his herd and every other calf would be a bull. This would all be done without extensive management changes or the loss of a black female base.
Sexing Technologies’ website has several Microsoft Excel spreadsheets that producers can access and manipulate. They are designed to take into effect all costs a producer will incur when getting a female pregnant. Market prices, pregnancy rates and other variables can be adjusted to determine what the potential profit or loss would be on any operation.
“The absolute only way we will promote the use of Sexed semen is if works economically. That’s our number one message because we know if it doesn’t work you won’t use it,” says Dean.
To date Sexing Technologies has produced and marketed millions of straws of dairy and beef Sexed semen. They have labs in Canada, the United States, Holland, France, New Zealand and soon to be Australia. A very large portion of the United States business is in the dairy industry due to the amount of AI used, the speed of turnover and the desire for a female calf.
“If people wonder whether it works or not, our answer is that we know it works because we have made millions of dairy and beef straws so far and we’re doing it with sound economics,” says Dean.