When considering artificial insemination many producers often look at the extra labor and “apparent” expense of the semen, but don’t consider the dollar savings or genetic gain they should achieve. This is more apparent of course in the dairy industry where rigorous testing is done on all A. I. bulls. However, it is worthwhile for beef producers to at least reconsider the pros and yes, the cons of A. I. services.
We all know extra labour for heat detection and breeding, and cost of semen are the two significant expenses for inseminating cattle. Semen is significantly cheaper in the dairy industry because so many more doses are sold. Junior sires are very inexpensive because the dairy industry wants data or epds collected on them. Synchronization programs involve drug costs, but save money on labour and if successful a tighter calving interval is the result. Other set up costs include purchasing a tank and equipment as well as on-going costs with fills of liquid nitrogen.
With natural service, herd bulls have to be fed all year. There are the additional costs of semen evaluating them as well as vaccinating and treating them for parasites. They also need hoof care and other veterinary care. Any farmer will also tell you the sometimes-large repair costs to fences, gates and other facilities from bulls fighting, notwithstanding the potential for them injuring each other. It’s important to give your bull battery lots of space to exercise and hide from each other. Insemination allows beef producers to breed more cows with less bulls. The extra savings may allow them to spend more on better natural bulls since fewer are required.
Almost all dairy bulls become aggressive and dangerous after two years of age. Now almost all dairies use A. I. exclusively. A few dairies have a dairy or in some cases beef bull to be used on problem breeders only. Always be careful when handling mature bulls. Most serious injuries dealing with cattle occur with the bulls. With natural selection, the beef bulls are becoming more and more docile. However, fighting bulls don’t even notice their handler, so beware!!
If venereal diseases such as vibriosis, leptospirosis or trichomoniasis are a problem in your area, insemination is one way to minimize their spread. The herd bull can be the transmitter of disease from one cow to the next through breeding. Fortunately, Canada does not have near the incidence of the venereal diseases that the U. S. does. Also by buying virgin bulls from purebred breeders you pretty much eliminate the possibility of bringing in most venereal diseases. The semen used in A. I. is treated before storage with an antibiotic and antimycotic to eliminate disease transmission.
Genetic gain and genetic diversity can be huge if A. I. sires are selected carefully and epds are followed. This is really why we A. I. isn’t it? To improve our herds. Whether it is milk yield and longevity in the dairy herds, or daily rate of gain and carcass quality in the beef breeds, improvement is paramount. Be careful as young herd sire (yearling) epds will not be near as accurate because their epds are based on the performance of their dam and sires since they have no natural calves yet. Using semen from young sires is a bit more of a gamble. Work done in the dairy industry finds a three per cent higher conception rate with proven sires versus junior sires. I don’t know whether the same holds true in the beef industry.
Conception rates, in the dairy industry, were two per cent higher with A. I. than natural use of bulls. The semen with A. I. is put right into the body of the uterus, and if heat detection is accurate, higher conception rates should result.
Attention to detail is critical so ensure cleanliness is followed and thaw semen according to the stud’s recommendations. A common recommendation is a 35C water bath for 40 seconds then straight into the cow.
In the purebred beef industry the biggest mistake made is relying too heavily on A. I. You still want to only breed for one or two cycles with a clean-up bull used after that, otherwise the calving interval might get too spread out.
If high quality herd sires have been purchased on-farm semen collection can be preformed. The semen is available for on-farm usage only. The semen acts as a sort of insurance policy in case something happens to the bull when naturally breeding. Long after the bull has deceased his genetics may still be accessed through A. I.
Roy Lewis is a practising large animal veterinarian at the Westlock Veterinary Center, north of Edmonton, AB. His main interests are bovine reproduction and herd health.