As part of the initial steps to begin the project "Using Half-Sib Cows to Improve Uniformity of Growth and Carcass Traits," we found ourselves facing the task of artificially inseminating (A.I.) 400 head of heifers. The ultimate results of our efforts will not be known for another couple of months, at which time we will use ultrasound to determine the date of conception. However, since this task is fresh on my mind, I felt it relevant to review several areas of this process I think were critical to our success/failure in this portion of the project. Hopefully, they will help you be better prepared in the future if you elect to use A.I. in your operation.
- Manage the heifers to achieve a realistic target weight prior to breeding. The industry established target weight for heifers at time of breeding is 65 percent of their mature weight. Make sure you do everything you can to manage the heifers to reach this weight. Additionally, do not underestimate the mature weight of the heifers.
- The ultimate success of an A.I. program reproductive performance can be dramatically affected by the health status of the cow herd. Work closely with your veterinarian to implement an effective herd health program.
- Have enough supplies, whether it is synchronization products, sleeves or straw cutters. In the middle of the process is not the time to realize that you are short of something. We found ourselves going back and collecting the last few drops from 50 used bottles to come up with enough estradiol for the last few heifers.
- Have plenty of labor and know the limitations of your labor supply. We used three A.I. technicians one thawed and loaded semen and two bred heifers. We could effectively A.I. a maximum of 200 heifers a day with this scenario. At least as important as the A.I. technicians was the labor handling the heifers. We had outstanding labor to handle the cattle. Do not undervalue the importance of effective cattle handling skills and its relationship to good conception rates.
- Have your semen organized effectively. We were fortunate in that we only used two bulls to breed all 400 heifers. We kept one lot of semen in one tank and the second lot in a completely separate tank. This is not always an option in other situations. Double check each straw of semen BEFORE you deposit it in the heifer/cow.
- Use accurate heat detection. We used several different heat detection techniques to monitor those heifers that came back in heat. Each has advantages and disadvantages. No matter what method you choose, accurate heat detection takes time and effort. Know this ahead of time and plan accordingly.
- Make your group size manageable. We began with relatively large groups of heifers. After a heifer was bred for the second time, we moved her to a completely separate pasture. This allowed us to have a smaller group in which we needed to detect heat.
- Keep accurate records. If possible, have the same person keep all the written records. Our only record-keeping mistakes occurred when I tried to substitute for Linsey Woodard, our livestock intern, who had kept track of all records up to that point.
- Use new technology when feasible. We used several relatively new technologies to assist us, including CIDRs, the Heatwatch heat detection system and Estrus Alert heat detection patches. We feel each of these products increased the effectiveness of our A.I. program. However, new technology does not come without associated costs; evaluate each critically to determine if new technologies have application in your program.
- Be prepared for the outcome. If (and it is a big "if" at this time) we did our job effectively, the potential exists, beginning about mid February of next year, for the heifers we bred to have 50 or more calves in a day. We are already formulating a plan to deal with calf identification, first-calf heifer management, supplementation management and breeding plans for 2005.
I realize that it is July, and there probably is not a one of you A.I. breeding cows at this time. However, it is never too early to consider the future breeding plans of your cow herd. In fact, you may want to consider if your future breeding plans include A.I. and if they do, be prepared. Feel free to contact one of the livestock specialists here at the Noble Research Institute at (580) 224-6500 if we can be of assistance.