Although more than half of all US dairy cows are bred using AI, only 7.6 percent of beef operations have implemented an AI program, according to National Animal Health Monitoring System. Why aren’t more beef producers on board with AI?
According to Dr. John B. Hall, an extension beef specialist at the University of Idaho, it may be because they don’t see the potential for a return on their investment — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Hall is an extension beef specialist at the University of Idaho. He hosted a session during the Range Beef Cow Symposium at the Scotts Bluff County Fairgrounds where he told producers how to find the value in AI.
In the case of dairy farms, AI made sense, said Hall. The twice daily milkings fit in with heat detection. It also reduced the danger of breeding bulls in with lactating dairy cows.
Additionally, the results were obvious. According to Hall, over the last 50 years since the industry began embracing AI the increase in milk production per cow per year averaged 266 pounds with 150 pounds of that being attributed to genetics.
The extra time and labor associated with AI is less appealing to the beef industry, but Hall says that advanced in fixed-time AI (FTAI) systems it is possible for operations to see a reduction in cattle handling and time associated with AI while also seeing consistent pregnancy rates of 50-65 percent.
In an FTAI program, all of the cows in a herd are given a hormone to synchronize ovulation and inseminated during a specific window of time.
This allows producers to better control when their heifers calve. During his presentation, Hall cited research that showed that heifers that calved earlier in their fist calving season stayed in the herd longer and produced more pounds of calves in their lifetime than those who calve later.
In addition to larger calves, AI programs that take advantage of sexed semen result in more heifers, which means more calves and so on.
“We can make heifers out of heifers,” said Hall.
In order to be successful, producers must ensure their heifers are in good body condition and follow estrus synchronization protocols carefully.
“We can’t forget the basics of good management,” said Hall.
He added that a well managed program can result in value being captured at the cow calf level, the feeder level and the harvest level.
Hall said that it is important for operations to determine whether an AI program is right for them and recommended a few tools to help them make the decision.
One of them, the Estrus Synchronization Planner offered by the Iowa Beef Center, offers recommended systems for cows and heifers. Producers can also use it to calculate costs per AI pregnancy, track things such as heat detection and generate a barn calendar.
It can be accessed at iowabeefcenter.org.
The University of Nebraska also offers feed and breeding “Cow-q-lators” which can be accessed at beef.unl.edu.