Midwestern Cattle Management

Herd Sires: Artificial Insemination vs. Natural Service

In the months prior to the breeding season, producers look to fire up their herd with new bull sires, but the question that always sits in the back of their minds whether they should give artificial insemination a try.

Artificial Insemination technologies have been around for decades, and the technique is only becoming more popular among the types of beef operations. As for cow-calf producers the decision of whether to utilize AI or natural service depends on the producer and the operation.

The decision can be a complex one to make. It involves economic, genetic and management considerations.

Artificial Insemination offers several advantages to cow-calf producers such as genetic improvement in your herd through increased use of superior sires, disease control, improved record keeping and also eliminates the need for keeping bulls on the operation.

 “Cows can be individually mated and a variety of bulls can be used, even in small herds where all cows would have to be mated to the same bull if natural service was used,” says Pete Anderson, Beef Cattle Specialist at the University of Minnesota. He continues, “This may be a particular advantage in herds that retain only a few replacement heifers each year but need to be bred to a calving ease bull.”

With A.I. cost effectiveness can also be an advantage in the purpose of semen. Superior quality bull semen can be routinely purchased from trait leading or champion bulls of many breeds for as little as $25 per straw.

When bull prices are high in the cattle industry, the cash flow of the producer may be easier when using artificial insemination. Bulls that are of proven high caliber are sometimes difficult to purchase for cow-calf producers, while their semen can be purchased easily.

Artificial Insemination also has potential drawbacks and producers should be aware that the use of AI will increase the requirement of labor and facilities.

Time is the number one component in AI.  Estrus detection is critical for success, as well as having a trained AI technician or a very experienced producer available to inseminate the female herd.

A low percent of cows in estrus during the breeding season is also a key disadvantage. Many producers who use artificial insemination will also turn out “clean-up” bulls to breed the cows that did not breed during the time of AI.

Adequate working, sorting and holding facilities are required. “AI is impossible without proper facilities,” says Anderson. “The producer also has to have certain necessary equipment such as semen tanks to perform successful inseminations.”

For producers that want greater and multiple genetic progresses in their herd AI makes more sense than breeding their herd through natural service. Very few cattlemen will breed their entire herd through artificial insemination though, and many combine the two services.

Although for some cow-calf producers it is more profitable and cost effective to utilize natural service entirely.

Utilizing herd sire bulls requires management of factors affecting fertility of bulls such as nutrition, health, injury and age and having to purchase herd bull replacements of superior quality and genetics can become costly to a producer as well.

A successful breeding program is having a large number of females pregnant in a short breeding season. When selecting possible sires besides the bull’s EPD numbers, another useful predictor is a Breeding Soundness Exam (BSE) and this should be conducted 60 days before the start of the breeding season.

Dr. David Forrest, Professor in Physiology of Reproduction and Associate Head for Academic Programs at Texas A&M University says, “The objective of a BSE is to evaluate and classify the potential breeding ability of the male. Components include a physical examination, external and internal evaluation of the reproductive tract and a semen collection and evaluation.”

As a producer uses natural service a major factor to consider is the number of cows a bull can effectively service.

 Placing a bull with too many cows to service may result in many open cows. The number of females a bull can handle depends upon bull maturity, soundness, fertility and condition as well as pasture size and length of the breeding season.

 Less sexually mature bulls should be placed with fewer females than their older counterparts. In general, exposing a young bull to more than 15 cows or heifers during breeding time is not sensible until the young bull has proven his worth.

When it comes down to it, every producer is different in running his business. As the producer decides which service the cow-calf operation will be utilizing, he will need to analyze what will be best for the herd and his wallet.

Callie McCulloughCallie McCullough is a junior at Texas A&M University pursuing a dual degree in animal science and agricultural communications. She’s a fifth generation rancher from Ridge, Texas. Born and raised on the family cow-calf operation, she is an avid cattle enthusiast and has a passion for the production cattle industry and its future.


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