SOLID A.I. PROGRAM LEAVES LITTLE TO CHANCE
by: Clifford Mitchell
The benefits of artificial insemination (AI) are well documented. By employing herd bulls that remain anonymous to the cows that are being bred, producers should be able to make genetic progress more rapidly.
AI has been used as a tool for herd improvement throughout the last three decades. Research, which focused on refining the process in which the sperm cells were frozen, semen handling, equipment and technique, has made AI available to a wide range of cattlemen looking to add value to the calf crop.
“The main reason I went to AI school was because the gentleman I had breeding my cows was retiring and there weren’t any reliable technicians in the area at the time. I knew I had to keep using the best bulls that were available to me so I learned how to AI,” says Brian Meyers, Farmington, Missouri.
“We were raising purebred cattle and my dad had been to AI school, but he worked off the farm. I wanted to learn so we could get the benefits of a solid AI program,” says Eric Martin, Golden Image Partnership, Ford, Kansas.
Top herd bulls often bring hefty prices at the end of the day. This makes it hard for most breeders to unload the bull at the home place for a formal courtship to the cows he will be mated to later in the season. However, a nominal investment in a semen tank filled with the breeds most proven or “en vogue” sires could lead to a better portfolio than a broker can put together on the New York Stock Exchange.
“To get started with AI, the school will cost about $600. An AI kit and a semen tank will run about $800 to $900. Add semen and basic supply costs and it is well worth the initial investment,” says Carl Rugg, Bovine Elite Inc., College Station, Texas. Bovine Elite handles both semen sales and puts on AI clinics.
With the way the cow/calf business is structured today, off the farm commitments take up a lot of a producer’s time and AI Clinics sometimes fall during the busiest times of the year. Some producers feel a little apprehension when it is time to learn a new task, even though it should help improve the bottom line.
“We limit our school to four days and producers can sign up by phone or on the web. Our class has limited space so we require a deposit and it is first come first serve,” Rugg says. “We try to make it real easy for producers to get involved in the program because the biggest problem they have is finding the time to do it.”
Programs that teach the AI to producers give each participant instruction on proper technique. Experience gained during the short period will also help refine management practices that are conducive to AI.
“We teach the basics during the four days a student is here. Once producers get into the program they learn a lot more than just AI,” Rugg says. “We give them a quick overview on how to manage cattle to be more successful with their AI programs.”
AI schools could be compared to mini camps or spring training. The basic information on technique is passed on to producers. The difference between a mediocre technician and a good one is the amount of effort put into getting better.
“Our students get into 70 cows during the afternoon labs, but the more practice you get the better a person gets at AI,” Rugg says. “Every cow is different. We give them things to look for to get to the insemination point, but the most successful students start getting into cows right away after they have completed our class.”
“For me, at first, I really didn’t understand what I was trying to find in the cow. Once I started finding the cervix and passing the rod, I started to gain confidence and get a feel for what I was doing,” Martin says. “It is real important to get into some cows right away.”
Acceptable conception rates are like learning to walk before you run. It takes time to improve technique, but also to get the management practices to fit the new breeding system. Skills like heat detection and nutritional management have to be refined to make AI successful.
“Fifty percent conception is very acceptable for the first breeding season. Producers will get better over time,” Rugg says. “Part of improving conception rates will be removing the fertility problems in the cow herd. With increased emphasis placed on cows that will AI, fertility will improve.”
“When I got started I was just hoping to get half the cows bred. Now I get about 66 percent on the first heat cycle and the ones that will settle AI, bred in two heat cycles,” Martin says. “I synchronize the cows I want to breed, but I don’t time breed anything. I want to see a cow in heat before I spend the time and money to breed her.”
“Synchronization is a good tool for us because I live off the farm. We line up our cows to come in heat on the weekends so we can properly detect heats and get them inseminated at the right time,” Meyers says. “The most critical thing is catching them in a good standing heat.”