In an effort to keep our herd performing at the top of their game, last year we ventured into new territory for our ranch: Artificial Insemination, commonly referred to as AI.
What is AI?
Artifical Insemination, a fertility treatment, directly inserts semen into the womb in order to increase the chances of egg fertilization. This technology has been around for the better part of 60 years for beef cattle, however has not been readily practiced in our industry until recently.
We took our chances trying this out last year for our bred heifers (a female that has not yet had a calf but is ready for breeding) and a group of mature cows for 2 reasons:
- Genetic improvement. When retaining females from within the herd for replacements 90% of the genetic material in the herd comes from the purchased bulls. Purchasing semen allows us to have the genetics introduced into the herd without the associated costs of owning the bull.
- Getting our heifers off to a good start. Cows that breed in their first cycle have a longer recovery time between calving and rebreeding. They are less likely to be culled due to not breeding back in time. Their calves are born earlier and hence have heavier weaning weights and the females retained in the herd are more mature when it comes time to bred them.
What did we do?
Day 1: a CIDR (Controlled Internal Drug Release) is inserted, this is like an Inter-Vaginal Device, and given an injection. This stops the heifer from cycling. Since the heifers were coming through the chute in the summer heat, we also put on fly control.
Day 8:the CIDR is removed and another injection is given. This allows all the heifers to cycle at the same time. Hence, this is also called heat synchronization.
Day 9: a certified technician comes and does the actual insemination. The AI technician takes several sanitary precautions to protect the reproductive health of the heifer.
Only a portion of the heifers will actually be bred with AI, hence we still use clean-up bulls for less than 50% of those in the AI program. These are bulls are with the cows during the ~42 day breeding season.
So far, the calves are looking good! We can identify them because their mom has a purple tag and they are red or black colouring with white-faces. They are both a cross from a Black Angus cow with a Hereford bull (red with a white face).
We are hopeful that because more calves were born at the beginning of the calving season, they will have increased weight gain throughout the summer months… More lbs = more $.
As we move forward, we want to improve our conception rate for next year (therefore we are working only with bred heifers). But overall, we feel that the effort has been worth it, with the real test coming when we weigh the calves in the fall.