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Want all heifer calves? Done!

Gene Johnston 02/07/2013 @ 11:31am On the scene at the 2012 Cattle Convention, Nashville

Ever wish you could get all heifer calves, to expand your bred heifer sales? Or, how about all bull calves, because they’re bigger at weaning and worth more at the sale ring?

Well, it can be done. It’s not foolproof, nor cheap, but the technology to use an artificial insemination program with sexed semen is getting better. Gustavo Toro of Sexing Technologies in Texas (www.sexingtechnologies.com) says their machine that sorts semen by X (female) and Y chromosomes is close to 90% accurate. If you get 100 cows pregnant by A.I. with sexed semen for female calves, you should get at least 90 heifer calves. He also says the A.I. success rate using sexed semen is slightly less, maybe 15% less, than using conventional unsexed semen. You can buy sexed semen from most of your usual A.I. companies such as ABS and Select Sires; they have the Sexing Technologies equipment on site. Sexing Technologies also has its own A.I. studs.

The semen sorting process uses a combination of light and magnets, explains the company. The X chromosome contains about 4% more DNA. An electrical charge is applied to the sperm based on this, and it passes through a magnetic field with splits it into X and Y streams. You can buy whichever you want. Some producers want only females for heifer replacement, some want only bulls for the bull or perhaps show-steer market.

The cost of sexed semen is not inexpensive. It’s usually 2.5 to 3 times the cost of a conventional unsexed semen straw from the same bull. If an Angus bull is normally $20, his sexed semen for male or female might be $50-$60, explains Toro. While that many seem like a steep premium, he says people who really want bull calves, for instance, tell him they’re worth at least $150 a head more than heifers to them. That makes the return on investment in sexed semen very good.

Kansas beef producer Galen Fink has used sexed semen on Angus cows, and says conception rates of fertilized embryos has been 70% TO 75%, which is even better than conventional non-sexed semen rates.

Toro, a native of Brazil who now lives in Texas, says there is more export demand for their A.I. services than domestic. As an example, he says Brazil last year imported 1.1 million straws of Angus semen from the U.S. In the U.S. itself, only 800,000 straws of Angus semen were used, and that A.I. number is not growing. “They’re making genetic progress in places like Brazil much faster than we are in the U.S.,” says Toro. They still have a long way to go to catch us in overall quality of animals, but at the current rate, they will.

He thinks one of the most interesting things happening in the cattle A.I. world right now is the use of beef bulls on dairy cows. “Because of the use of sexed semen in dairy cows, they can get all of their replacement heifers by breeding about 10% of their very best cows to the dairy breed bull,” says Toro. “For the other 90%, they can breed to something that will give them the best quality beef offspring. Right now, they seem most interested in Angus or Limousine bulls.”

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