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High-priced bulls & artificial insemination

Gene Johnston 02/02/2012 @ 11:32am On the scene at the 2012 Cattle Convention, Nashville

Owning a bull would seem to be a requirement to be in the business of cows and calves, wouldn’t it?

Maybe not. You do have the option of breeding cows by artificial insemination. It’s not perfect, and maybe you’ll only get 60% to 70% conception with A.I. And you’ll still need a clean-up bull to catch some late-breeders.

But natural mating isn’t perfect, either, says Willie Altenberg of Genex Co-op, an A.I. bull stud that sells both dairy and beef semen. At the Cattle Convention this week, he is telling producers that yearling bull prices for commercial beef herds are keeping pace with the recent run-up in the entire cattle market. At some bull sales, average yearling beef bulls to go into commercial operations will sell for $4,000 to $5,000 per head. At that price, and if the bull sires 25 live calves over two breeding seasons, your simple bull price (not including feed and maintenance) is $100 per calf.

Altenberg compares that to a synchronized A.I. program, where the cows are heat-synched and A.I.ed. The cost for the semen is typically $16 per straw. The cost for the synchronization protocol drugs is about $14 per cow. That’s $30 total. At 60% conception, it’s $50 per pregnant cow, half the price per calf of owning the $5,000 bull. 

Except, A.I. mating takes more management and time, and you still probably have to own a lower-priced clean-up bull. But, counter that with the fact that synchronized A.I. might get you a better bull on at least 60% of your calves, and you will concentrate your breeding season and calving season into a narrow window. What’s that worth to you?

Bottom line, says Altenberg, is that the choice of approach for beef cows (A.I. versus natural mating) is not clear-cut. Economics may favor A.I., and it’s more about your personal preference and commitment than the money.

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