May 10, 2011

 It is the time of year in the Midwest when breeding soundness exams and artificial insemination programs are everyday events.  Great strides have been made in the last few years in the design and products available that make use of timed AI programs not only easy to implement but highly effective. 

We use timed AI programs routinely in our practice.  In beef herds there is a huge savings in labor due to the convenience of being able to pre determine weeks in advance what day the herd will need to be gathered for chute work.   This tool has allowed us to implement AI in commercial herds that would not have heat detected and bred after observed heats. 

The convenience factor of AI in my opinion is seen on both ends of gestation.  It is a huge advantage to have 60% of your cows bred on day 1 of the breeding season strictly for labor and convenience. 

There are also  economic reasons why this is beneficial.  If you are able to breed 60% AI (I tell my producers to hope for > than 60 but to expect 60 or <) and then if the bull can achieve 60% preg rates on the remaining 40% of the herd you have 84% bred in the first 21 days. 

Realistically what we see is that, especially with low birthweight bulls, the gestation is shortened and often the first round of calving is nearly done by the “due” date.  Having the calving season front end loaded increases the average weight of your calves at sale by increasing the average age of each calf , increases the likely hood of getting cows bred back and increase the continuity of the group. We have all seen herds that have semen checked a bull and found out at preg check that he went bad during the breeding season and this is insurance towards minimizing that risk as well. 

If these are not enough reasons then another is to safeguard against Trichomoniasis.  Those in western states have long dealt with Trich and it is recently moving into the Midwest.  By using AI in a herd, you minimize the damage done if Trich is introduced.  By eliminating bull breeding on the first heat cycle Trich does not have affect until the second cycle when the infected bulls begin breeding.   

Using AI also allows you to decrease your bull power and increase genetic potential by using proven sires. Options can be utilized such as using maternal bulls on cows compatible with keeping replacement  animals and terminal sires in the others.  Another option is to have a strictly terminal bull as a clean up to maximize profits from these calves while using a maternal bull for AI or a mixture of maternal and terminal bulls for AI depending on the cow. 

This process is not to be taken lightly and there is significant financial investment.   Care must be taken in setting up all dates, etc. and timing of injections is crucial.  Depending on the facility we usually limit the herd size to 80 – 120  hd.  With two AI techs we can get these through in a timely manner and our variation of time from injection to AI is minimized. 

In a time when calf prices are at all time highs every pound of beef matters.  AI allows us to use better genetics, increase calf size by increasing average age at weaning, decrease bull power, decrease biosecurity risk and maximize labor.  More and more people in our practice are utilizing this management tool to keep their cow herds moving forward into a changing beef industry.