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Guaranteeing calves, Sexed semen provides commercial benefit

Rapid City, S.D. – Although more technological advances are needed to make it a more viable option in the commercial beef business, using sexed semen can benefit commercial beef producers, according to John Hall, University of Idaho beef specialist. 

Hall has conducted research on the use of sexed semen in the commercial beef industry. He has a vested interest in seeing it used at his own research facility to produce replacement heifers. 

“We have Hereford-Angus cross females at the research facility I work at, and producers come in and want to breed all sorts of things to them,” he explained during his presentation at the Beef Range Cow Symposium. “The question became how could we retain our Hereford-Angus cow base, using all these different genetics for research purposes. It became clear that using sexed semen to produce replacement females may be the answer.”

Basic facts

Since then, Hall has learned a lot about using sexed semen in beef cows. 

When sexed semen was first introduced in the beef industry, its success rate was only 35 to 40 percent. However, as technology advances and better sorting methods are developed, it now averages 55 to 65 percent. 

“This is technology that is useful and will probably stay around, but it is technology that has some risk involved with it, at this time,” he explained.

In fact, a new technique for sorting semen was used for the first time last year, Hall said. It is estimated it will increase conception about five percent over what it was.

Sexed semen has been used in the dairy industry for some time, with thousands of successful conceptions. Hall said in dairy heifers, the conception rate is about 50 percent, but it is considerably lower in post-partum, lactating dairy cows. 

Working commercially

Based on that, Hall decided to see how it would work in a beef cow. 

“Early on, we were told not to use sexed semen in lactating beef cows. But, it seems like a lactating beef cow with a good body condition score, who is 40 days post-partum, is probably about as fertile an animal as producers would have on a farm,” he said. 

Hall compared that to a heifer he really likes but doesn’t know what her track record will be. 

“The cow has already bred a few times, so we know she is pretty fertile,” he comments.

Studies

In a three-year study, Hall investigated whether or not sexed semen could be used on a limited number of cows to produce replacement females. During this study, he used fixed time AI with sexed semen, bred to one sire and averaged a 50 percent pregnancy rate. 

“We thought we did pretty well when we looked at similar studies that only showed about 33 percent,” he said. “From that research, we think sexed semen can be used in beef cows if they are good candidates for artificial insemination (AI) to start with.”

Success factors

Hall mentioned several factors that can contribute to successful sexed semen AI. 

“Find animals that are in heat or breed animals that have been in heat prior to fixed time AI or for at least 12 hours after they shows estrus,” he recommended. 

The beef specialist added it is important to use some type of estrus detection if sexed semen will be used. 

“Breed the cows that come into heat or come into heat prior to fixed time AI with sexed semen. Then use conventional semen on the rest of the cows,” he explained. 

This method is based on a study conducted by the University of Nebraska.

Failed methods

Mass insemination doesn’t work well, Hall continued. 

“When semen goes through the sorting process, it gets treated really roughly. It gets damaged and incapacitated, and it is already starting through the biochemical process that it needs to fertilize an egg. It reduces the lifespan of the semen within the female reproductive tract,” he explained. 

Because of this, there can be a large range of variation in pregnancy rates with sexed semen. 

“Some bulls will just sort better than others. One bull may have 50 percent conception, and another may be 17 percent,” he said.

In the future, the fertility of sexed semen will improve, Hall said. Research is already underway to find ways to decrease sorting damage, develop synchronization systems and improve bull selection. 

“Sexed semen will not ruin the industry,” Hall said. “It is a technology whose time has come in the beef industry. However, producers need to understand the risks and limitations.”

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


SIDEBAR
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Economic benefits

Using sexed semen can be economically advantageous in the commercial beef industry, according to John Hall, Extension beef specialist with the University of Idaho. 

Hall said producers can use sexed semen to develop a maternal line of cows to cross with a terminal sire. 

During the last 10 years, the size of steers and their carcass weights have increased. Cow size has also increased dramatically. 

“Competing meat species have developed maternal lines and use those with terminal sires to get a better, higher yielding product. They have found it is a more efficient return on their investment,” he explained. 

Hall said at his research facility in Idaho, they have chosen a group of elite maternal cows from the herd and bred those to maternal sires using sexed semen after fixed time artificial insemination (AI). They follow this process up with natural service to a maternal sire. 

“We are getting about 66 to 70 heifers out of this group,” he said. 

If a producer has 300 cows and saves 15 percent of his replacement heifers, he would need to breed about 100 cows to a maternal sire to get 45 replacement heifers. 

“If we mate these cows to maternal bulls, then we will also have 45 steers that may not perform as well as those from a terminal sire,” Hall explained. “If we go with sexed semen, we would only need 25 percent of the herd to produce those same replacement heifers.”

Another advantage of using sexed semen in a commercial operation is the ability to select for the Y semen and produce more steer calves that could be sold for a premium. 

In smaller operations of only 100 to 150 cows, producers can’t produce enough calves of one sex to fill a semi. 

As an example, Hall discussed a neighbor who sold 35 steers for $160 per hundredweight and 35 heifers for $150 per hundredweight. Hall determined if the neighbors could have sold all steers, he would have netted $5,000 more. 

Hall then compared this to another neighbor who sold the same day but had a full load of steers and earned $163 per hundredweight. 

Basically, Hall determined the first neighbor was being docked not only for selling heifers but also because he had a mixed semi load of calves. 

“If he would have had a full semi load and all steers, he would have made an additional $6,700,” Hall stated.

Economic Benefits of Sexed Semen

 

Steers/ Heifers (hd)

Wt. (lbs.)

Price ($/cwt)

Value

All Steer Impact

Split

load

55/35

580/520

160/150

$78,340

 

Whole load

90

580

160

$83,520

$5,180

Whole load

90

580

163

$85,086

$6,746


Dollar value -- Selling a full semi load of steers, rather than a mixed load of steers and heifer, can lead to real economic benefits of more than $5,000 per load, according to University of Idaho Extension Beef Specialist John Hall.