By Robert Fears
Artificial breeding technology definitely has costs, but it also has potential to surpass those costs with additional profits.
Certainly before adopting a new practice, one must consider such things as management intensity, labor costs and production goals for each one. Then compare costs and returns of AI and ET versus natural breeding to determine if one or both of these breeding systems can add profits.
"In a herd of cows with unsynchronized estrus, effective male to female ratios vary from 1:10 to 1:60," says Charles Looney with OvaGenix. "Synchronization reduces servicing capacity to recommended ratios of 1:20 to 1:25, because there are more cows to service in a shorter period of time. Using highly fertile bulls and decreasing the number of bulls to cows will decrease cost per pregnancy."
One of the big advantages of estrus synchronization is a reduction in length of calving season. This was demonstrated by a Financial And Risk Management assistance strategic planning model done by Mac Young, Texas AgriLife Extension Service, and colleagues. It evaluated the individual financial impacts of various management strategies on a model South Texas ranch.
One of those strategies was reducing a 120-day calving season to a 90 days. The model showed that in a 120-day calving period, net cash farm income averages $17,320 per year for 200 head or about $86.60 per cow.
In a 90-day calving period, NCFI averages $18,300 or about $108.90 per cow. This is a net change of approximately $4.90 per cow per year or about $49.00 per cow over 10 years.
"A 90-day calving season requires a 90-day breeding season which is important for maintaining a 12-month calving interval," says Looney. "Eighty to 90 days are left for calving and rebreeding after subtracting a 285-day gestation period from a 365-day year. Controlled calving seasons by estrus synchronization can reduce costs because labor and management can be concentrated for calving, branding, weaning and other management tasks."
Looney says another advantage of estrus synchronization is it allows scheduled calving to coincide with good weather, quality forage availability and access to labor. Estrus synchronization results in more heats per breeding season which increases pregnancy rates and cow productivity. It helps identify problem cows so that they can be induced to cycle.
He adds that early conception occurs from estrus synchronization, which results in higher weaning weights and a more uniform calf crop.
The biggest barrier to use of AI by commercial cattlemen seems to be the adoption of estrus synchronization. The many advantages offered by this practice warrants strong consideration of its use. Once estrus synchronization is employed, AI becomes easy.
Artificial insemination >>
"There are less than 5% of the beef cows in this country bred AI and the majority of these cows are located on purebred operations or on ranches that produce club calves for the 4H and FFA markets," says Jim Church, University of Idaho Extension. "In contrast, approximately 66% of dairy cows are bred artificially each year and AI is used by over 70% of commercial hog operators."
"Many cow-calf producers believe it is too labor intensive and not economically feasible due to the additional cattle handling," says Looney. "Other excuses include lack of adequate handling facilities and unskilled employees."
Texas researchers used the same financial model and ranch scenario to evaluate AI, along with estrus synchronization. Their conclusion was that AI offers the potential to significantly impact profitability and financial performance of a cow-calf operation.
Without AI, NCFI on 200 cows averages $17,320 per year for the operation or about $86.60 per cow per year. With AI, NCFI averages $21,780 or about $108.95 per cow per year. Comparing natural breeding to AI, there is a net increase in NCFI of about $22.35 per cow per year.
Looney says another benefit of AI to economic gains is the incorporation of better genetics to produce calves with added value. "Increased revenue from AI calves with heavier weaning weights can exceed AI program costs," he says.
Embryo transfer >>
You must evaluate ET in your operation the same as you do estrus synchronization and AI, Looney says.
"Advantages of ET include increased offspring from genetically superior cows and increased marketing opportunities in the sale of calves, pregnant cows, and embryos," he adds. "ET allows the use of rare or valuable semen and an increased number of offspring that can prove the genetic merits of a female at an earlier age."
Some disadvantages are higher breakeven costs for calves, requirements for an increased level of management, and a possibility for spread of genetic diseases. Another disadvantage is that not all potential donors respond positively to treatment.
There are costs associated with donor and recipient maintenance, boarding fees for in-clinic flushing, and increased labor for synchronization drug administration and heat detection. ET costs and positive effects on profits can be found in charts on ET costs and profits.
Potential to increase ranch profits through the use of estrus synchronization, artificial insemination, and embryo transfer should be explored. In today's cattle markets improved production is worth a lot of money.
Fears is a freelance writer working from Georgetown, Texas.