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AI vs. the bull
Owning a bull would seem to be a requirement to be in the cow-calf business, wouldn't it?
Maybe not. You do have the option of breeding cows by artificial insemination (AI). It's not perfect, and maybe you'll only get 60% to 70% conception with AI. And you'll still need a cleanup bull to catch late breeders that don't settle by AI.
But natural mating isn't perfect, either, says Willie Altenburg of Genex Cooperative, Inc., an AI bull stud service that sells both dairy and beef semen. His message to producers is that the price of bulls for commercial herds is keeping pace with the recent run-up in the entire cattle market. Good bulls are expensive, but with AI, you can use the very best bulls at affordable semen costs.
Making the case
At some recent sales, average yearling beef bulls have sold for $4,000 to $5,000 per head. Take the midpoint, $4,500. If that bull sires 84 calves over three breeding seasons, your bull price is over $70 per calf (see the table).
Altenburg compares that to a synchronized AI program (also in the table). In such a program, the cows are given a combination of prostaglandin and other estrous-synch products that make them ovulate at the same time. Then, they can all be artificially inseminated on the same day, regardless of visible signs of heat. The cost for the most intensive synchronization program is about $12 per cow (plus the labor of putting cows through a chute at least twice).
Couple that with the cost of a technician to inseminate the cows ($6 per cow) and frozen semen from a good beef bull with a proven record of quality offspring ($18 per cow). That's $36 total per cow inseminated. At 60% to 65% conception, the AI program costs $55 to $60 per calf born – about 20% less than the bull.
Of course, that's not the whole story. AI takes more time and management. And you'll still need that cleanup bull (presumably of lesser value) for cows that don't conceive by AI.
The AI program may get your calves a better sire than you could afford to own.
“I can't guarantee better calves from AI, but if you do a good job of selecting semen, you will get a bull proven for such things as calving ease, growth, maternal traits, and carcass traits,” says Altenburg.
For an added investment of $10 to $11 in semen, you can buy sexed semen, assuring at least 90% heifer (or bull) calves.
If you use the synchronization program and AI, you will also get the advantages of concentrating calving season into an early, narrow time frame. That should give a more uniform calf crop, with heavier average weaning weights.
Genex Cooperative, Inc.
888/333-1783 | www.genex.crinet.com
You'll Need Help to AI 80 Cows an Hour
If you adopt a synchronization and artificial insemination (AI) program, Willie Altenburg, Genex Cooperative, Inc., suggests you find someone with AI expertise (such as an AI company, Extension, or veterinarian) for support. “Most herd owners need help to AI 100 cows in a short time,” he says.
When Altenburg offers his services, he usually has a team of three people – one thawing semen and two servicing cows. “If we're going good, we can breed 80 cows an hour,” he notes.