AI increases options for producers

Mar 14, 2014

Artificial insemination (AI) continues to grow in popularity and has become a powerful tool for genetic improvement in the cow herd. However, success is not guaranteed and having a plan is the key to a good AI program.

Rich Blair, Blair Brothers Angus, from Sturgis, SD, started using AI in 1989, and has found, with good planning and the right resources, it’s been a useful tool for improving his herd.

Starting out with just heifers, Blair liked the idea of being able to use proven bulls and pick for certain traits, so in 1990 he began using AI on his cows. After breeding a couple of generations of heifers, he realized the AI daughters were too good to cull.

“We were throwing away too many bred heifers,” Blair said. “Now we are down to 3 percent.”

AI opened up options for breeding that he couldn’t find locally. A huge believer in EPDs, AI allowed him to look for specific traits like calving ease, milk, marbling, rib-eye, docility and carcass weight.

“If I can find a bull that will move me in two to three traits at the same time, that’s the kind of bull I wanted,” Blair added.

The one trait that Blair typically discards is frame size.

“Typically the bigger framed cows will not breed back in our conditions,” he shared.

In the beginning, they were heat detecting for 24 days, and getting about 50 percent bred. The program’s success shows today with heat detection down to about seven days, and 85 to 87 percent bred.

Another area he’s seen improvement in is calving time.

“My biggest fear when we started was that I was going to spread my calving period out, but all it’s done is tighten it up,” Blair said.

Another bonus to the program success has been the growth in his business that now includes bull sales, and having the opportunity to work with his kids.

“It’s the AI and what came along with it that’s allowed the boys to come back to the ranch,” Blair said.

Chris and Casey Miller, Miller Crow Creek Ranch, producers from Spearfish, SD, have also found success utilizing AI.

Starting their program in 1976, the Millers now breed about 100 to 120 heifers each year. Like Blair, the focus was on genetics.

“We started because we wanted to use the available superior genetics,” Miller said. “Traits we are breeding for is calving ease, growth and maternal traits.”

When combined with estrus synchronization, a shorter calving season can be achieved, resulting in a more consistent, uniform calf crop, according to research.

“We have improved tighter calving groups, improved weaning weights, maternal traits, calving ease and reduced form size,” he added.

Miller points out that the process is not as simple as pasture breeding, but instead very “labor intensive.”

“For first timers, I would recommend to breed on standing heat, rather than a timed breeding. The success rate will be higher,” he added.

“Also, nutrition plays a huge role,” Miller said.

Speaking at the Range Beef Cow Symposium (RBCS) Dec. 3-5 in Rapid City, SD, University of Wyoming Beef Cattle Specialist Scott Lake discussed that very same topic, reminding cow/calf producers that pregnancy rates can suffer when post-AI heifer diets change abruptly.

For more information on nutritionĀ“s impact on AI success see the article on page 10.

George Perry, Associate Professor and Beef Reproductive Management Specialist, shared key points in creating a successful AI program. Facilities, experience, manpower and available feed resources help with that success.

“Adequate facilities does not mean that an investment in ‘steel’ is a prerequisite,” he points out in an IGrow article. “In fact, properly designed wooden corrals and sorting pens may be desirable providing a quieter working environment. Most AI programs, whether synchronization is or is not involved, demand additional, skilled labor as proper handling of the cattle can have a dramatic impact on success rates.” — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor