Purebred cattle breeders have relied on artificial insemination (AI) and estrus synchronization as a part of herd management for decades. That got me thinking — what’s stopping commercial breeders from doing the same? Time? Money? Aren’t these reasons we should be considering AI?
In June, Travis Peardon, regional livestock specialist with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, spoke at the Western Beef Development Centre’s field day about a current project partially funded by the ministry’s Agriculture Demonstration of Practices and Technology (ADOPT) program. The project looks to compare AI to natural breeding in three herds of heifers. I asked Peardon what the producers involved thought of the program. Overall, their response has been positive, though there were some concerns at the beginning of the project.
“The producers were afraid that each time it would get a little harder to work the animals,” Peardon explained, “but we actually found the opposite.”
In fact, one of the producers involved in the study felt working the heifers in the fall made them easier to deal with during calving season. Now, that’s a bonus!
Alright, alright, you say, but what about all that time you have to spend in the corrals?
The heifers in this study were processed in three hours, three times. For twenty animals, that may seem like a lot of work, but, for a moment, think back on all the time you’ve spent:
- Semen testing bulls
- Buying replacement bulls (because not everyone can pass one test per year)
- Bringing in and treating bulls affected by: footrot, pinkeye, abscesses, genital injuries, overly-friendly magpies, etc. etc.
- Recuperating after a bull-chase-related injury
- Fixing fences because of bull-fight-related damage
- Overwintering the messy, hungry, smelly critters
Peardon pointed out a few other, very important factors to consider, in his presentation. Although the AI/estrus synchronization program was an initial $23/hd above the cost of natural breeding in his example, it meant:
- A $15-25 genetic advantage
- A shorter calving season – More sleep for producers!
- Increased performance of retained heifers – they calve sooner, thus have a longer time to recover before the next breeding
- Expecting higher weaning weights due to earlier calving – Stay tuned – will be measured this fall
One last thought: In the example provided, Peardon mentioned the AI technician costing around $20/hd. A four-day course in AI costs around $700, so it pays for itself after roughly 35 animals.
Suddenly the cost differential between natural breeding and AI isn’t so bad. And that has me thinking.
Do you use AI in your commercial beef herd? Why or why not? Biggest advantage? Disadvantage? Share your thoughts in the comments!