Spring is our time to reflect on the previous years successes and failures. This year I tried very hard to take to heart the advice I received from a Grainews reader. They told me that I was starting to sound pretty negative and I should remember to see my blessings. I really appreciated that little wake up call and they were totally right. We are all healthy here at Chikousky Farms, plus we are still here and able to farm again this year.
We have examined 2009 with a different outlook and concur that there isn’t a negative thing that happened to us that we cannot learn how to improve our management from. Even though we cannot change the weather there are things we can change such as how we utilize artificial insemination (AI) of our beef cows.
MORE SUCCESSFUL AI
Here’s our plan on how we’re going to try and improve things for 2010.
When we compared the data we had for our AI conception rates from 2008 and 2009 we found a big difference between the two. In 2008 we were only achieving a 47% conception rate and most were bull calves. We thought that part of the problem was timing because my husband was working two off-farm jobs that made it difficult to time the breedings according to the protocol he was taught. The rule of thumb was that cows are bred 18 hours from the beginning of standing heat. But we really had no way of knowing for sure exactly when a cow first came into heat and we do not use hormone shots on our farm to synchronize. We rely on human observation and KAMAR strips (see below for description) to evaluate when an animal is in heat.
Then in 2009 we met a veterinarian in the U. S. that teaches his farmers to breed the cows at the first sign of heat (as soon as you observe the cow accepting being ridden). This is much sooner than we were taught and his theory is that although the amount of semen in a straw is much less than in natural service it only takes one to achieve pregnancy. He also said that no one is really sure how long it takes the egg to be released so he breeds early. We thought it was worth a try and started to breed as soon as we observed a cow accepting being ridden. Our conception rate for 2009 was 60% — a respectable increase of 13% more cows being settled on their first breeding.
To increase our accuracy at observing heats we like to use KAMAR heat detection strips from Select Sires (www.selectsires.com/kamar.aspx).They are canvas patch with a plastic bubble in the center. It is glued to the tail head of the cow and when she is ridden a bubble breaks and turns red. The red is easily observed from a distance and as soon as we see them red we breed the cow.
INCREASING HEIFER NUMBERS
There is much anecdotal evidence on ways to increase the heifer to bull ratio at calving. Some people told us that putting apple cider in the water would increase the amount of heifers. It didn’t. But we have noticed that our change in AI timing has. This year we got 67% heifers from our AI calves.
There is some scientific evidence that supports the theory that gender influence stems from sperm survivability. The longer semen is in the cow waiting for the egg the better the chance of the X-chromosome fertilizing the egg and producing a heifer calf. “In this scenario, Y-chromosomes may not live as long as X-chromosomes. Thus, more of the Y-chromosomes die before the egg is ready to be fertilized, thus giving the X-chromosomes a better opportunity for fertilization,” notes Paul Fricke, University of Wisconsin extension dairy reproductive specialist.
This could be a good thing if you’re increasing your herd or a bad thing if all the calves are headed to the auction mart in the fall, I suppose, but I think it worked in our favor this year. The heifers we got were all from cows that have been consistent performers in our herd and the bull calf was from a cow that we selected for Gridmaker semen this year.
IMPROVE AND RETAIN GENETICS
We use AI to both improve and preserve our genetics. Our herd sire is by far the quietest and easiest keeping bull we have ever had on the farm and by utilizing AI we can retain him for much longer. His genetics have allowed us to build our herd to be grass based and now we need to be able continue improving on his daughters with genetics from other grassbased herds. AI will allow us to be able to do that. We are very excited this year that a few grassbased Angus herds in Manitoba have decided to draw from their bulls and offer semen for sale this year. It shows confidence in the future of our industry and we are always happy to support those farmers.
There are costs involved with AI. Before my husband took the course to AI our own cows we used to have a technician come to our farm, but, again timing was difficult. The AI course he took cost $300 and was taught in a three-day seminar. Our first nitrogen tank was $100, used, which we have upgraded to a new one last year for $600. Semen cost is about $10 a straw and up. Other supplies needed are: OB gloves, AI gun and sleeves, lubricant, straw cutter, thermometer and an insulated travel mug. These supplies, besides the travel mug, can be purchased through the local veterinarian, local semen company representative or Gencor (www.gencor.ca).Our yearly contract for liquid nitrogen is $150.
Thanks again for the advice. We will definitely remember it as we move along evaluating our management techniques for every other aspect of our operation.
Debbie Chikousky farms with her family in Narcisse, Man. Visitors are always welcome. Contact Debbie at [email protected]