Beef herd owners are looking for ways to change the way they breed cows.
More than 90 producers from northern Missouri and southern Iowa heard the latest research on timed artificial insemination (AI) Feb. 7. The Harrison County Cattlemen's Association teamed up with Extension specialists from the University of Missouri and Iowa State University for a meeting in Bethany.
National surveys indicate that only 10% of beef herd owners use AI in their cow herds, says David Patterson, MU Extension beef specialist. "We are now at the point in our research to recommend ways to 'breed by appointment,â€™ "
With timed AI, estrous cycles of cows are synchronized to facilitate insemination at predetermined times. It eliminates labor-intensive heat detection that, in an unsynchronized herd, requires checking the cows several times a day for a month.
In other surveys, producers cited "time and labor" as the main reasons they did not use AI, Patterson says. Now producers who work off farm can synchronize their herds for breeding on a Saturday morning, for example.
The advantage of using timed AI is not just labor savings, but also the ability to use top bulls in a breed. There are many sires with proven and accurate records that are available for the biggest or the smallest herd. Changes in beef marketing now provide financial rewards to producers growing calves with superior genetics. "If we don't change now, the future of the U.S. commercial beef herd is in question," Patterson says.
Steps for successful breeding
Jackie Atkins, MU graduate student from North Dakota, says timed AI will work best in herds that are already well managed. "If you aren't getting 85 to 90 percent pregnancy rates in a 60-day breeding season, you need to work on that first," she says.
Herd health and nutrition also must be in top shape, before using AI. The new systems also require animal identification, recordkeeping, and adequate cattle working facilities. However, genetic providers have breeding boxes and working chutes available for the breeding season.
"There is help available from AI technicians, veterinarians, and Extension specialists in learning the new protocols," Atkins says.
Every speaker indicated the need for precision in following the protocols for the breeding programs.
The MU scientists developed the protocols in six years of study at Agricultural Experiment Station farms and in field trials on cooperating producers' farms. They have now translated research from life sciences labs on campus into farmer-friendly methods.
In response to a farmer's question, the specialists says there is only a couple of hours leeway in the breeding times. "If the protocol says start breeding in 72 hours, you must have the cows in the chute at 72 hours," Patterson says.
All details of the breeding season should be written down, including dates and hours, on a calendar, before starting. "Check to see if there are going to be any conflicts during the breeding times," Patterson says.
Iowa State beef specialists Russ Bredahl, of Creston, and Joe Sellers, Chariton, demonstrated computer software that prints out a detailed calendar for a chosen breeding protocol, whether for heifers or for cows.
The system, which requires Windows and Excel software, provides a budget as well as a calendar, Bredahl says. It has fill-in blanks that are easy to use.
The program, "Estrus Synchronization Planner," is available on CD from
the Iowa Beef Center (515-294-2333) in Ames for $25 plus shipping.
MU regional Extension livestock specialists received copies of the program during in-service training Feb. 1-2 on the MU campus. They can walk producers
through the procedures.
For further information on timed AI, see page 28 feature in the February issue of Missouri Ruralist.