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Sharing an Opinion: Why We AI

The "Why We…" series is a quarterly feature in The Spokesman magazine. It's a place for Montana Farm Bureau members to share their opinions on topics and techniques that work for their farms and ranches across Montana. This month's feature comes from Travis Standley. Travis was raised on a commercial cow-calf operation outside of Cascade, Montana. He worked as an MSU Extension agent for almost 10 years and is currently a Livestock Nutrition Specialist for Westfeeds. 

Ranching in my opinion is one of the best careers and lifestyles in the world. It is also one of the most difficult when it comes to the amount of knowledge and expertise that is required with new technologies that are readily available.

It seems that there is always something new or a better method than previously used. A person can get overwhelmed by all the new techniques or gadgets that are supposed to make things easier to accomplish one’s goals.

Although the commercial use of artificial insemination is recent (1937), the sequence of events leading to today’s industry traces back to the 17th century. Artificial Insemination is also used in numerous different animals, including humans. Across all species one thing remains the same and that is that the procedure must be done in the quickest and most painless way possible in order to ensure conception and health of the reproductive system.

Even though this is not a new technology most producers are still not incorporating it into their management strategies. While the genetic advantages to using AI in beef cattle are well known, the rate of use across the country remains very low.  According to USDA data (2012) about 5 percent of cows and 16 percent of heifers in the U.S. beef herd are bred artificially. AI is a valuable tool the producers can use to their advantage; however, it is also my belief that AI will not work in for every ranch.

So when it comes to decisions like choosing between buying a bull or buying semen for AI, the business manager needs to determine which one is most cost effective and best fits their ranch. What are the pros and cons of AI?

Disadvantages

  • These include the amount of time livestock managers must spend checking females for estrus or “heat.”

  • Putting cattle through working facilities multiple times. Some special facilities for corralling and insemination are required.

  • Clean-up bulls (a bull turned out to breed any cows that didn’t conceive under artificial means) are still required.

  • Trained personnel are required to perform the technique.

  • The biggest disadvantage is the amount of time, labor, and management that it takes to perform this task successfully.


Advantages

  • It saves on the cost of buying and keeping/feeding bulls year round.

  • It prevents the spread of certain diseases.

  • The semen of a desired sire can be used even after the death of that particular sire.

  • Safer for smaller cows and heifers as bulls can be bigger and heavier as they age.

  • Semen can be used on thousands of females a year instead of the actual bull being only able to cover 20-25 females in a breeding season.

  • The rate of genetic development and production gain can be increased, by using semen from males with superior genetics.


The biggest reason we use AI on our ranch is the opportunity for genetic advancement. We keep most of our own females to put back into our herd. AI allows us to breed to bulls we would otherwise not be able to due to expense. The other advantage that we have in common with many ranches is that it involves the entire family. My parents still run and manage the operation with myself and my wife and my brother and his wife all contributing in our own ways. We all share a love of agriculture and the animals in which we are responsible for. We have plenty of labor (in between our full time jobs) available for our small ranch.

AI allows us to breed our heifers and cows to different bulls without having to purchase multiples of each. We still have to buy a clean-up bull for the heifers. We also don’t breed all the cows in our herd, mostly because we only have one technician (me) and fatigue can become an issue to the amount of time and the success in percentage of conception.

We use a 7-day protocol (which is one of many methods for AI procedures), on both our heifers and mature cows, which adds another degree of timing, as the heifers have a shorter amount of time in the protocol than the cows. Although the animals go through the facilities three different times during the process, they spend only minutes in the facilities and it is an easy process.

Any rancher’s goal is to reduce stress and to work cattle in the calmest, most efficient way possible. We use this fixed time (which means we don’t heat detect) AI protocol because we have to do the majority of the work in evenings and weekends. I realize that heat detection would give us better conception rates but time is still the most important commodity for everyone.

Farmers and ranchers strive to use the safest and most efficient methods and products available for animal care. It’s up to the farmer or rancher to choose the method of breeding that will work best for his herd.

The Spokesman is a quarterly publication for the more than 21,000 member families of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation. To subscribe or become a Farm Bureau member, contact Scott at (406) 587-3153 or visit www.mfbf.org.