Producer Panel: Implementation
and Benefits of an AI Program
by Barb Baylor Anderson for Angus Productions Inc.
NASHVILLE, TENN. (Aug. 5, 2010) — While some producers may still hesitate about the use of artificial insemination (AI) in their beef operations, two producers told participants at the Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle (ARSBC) Conference in Nashville, Tenn., the investment is worth it.
“I believe more producers have not embraced AI because while they see the economic benefit, they don’t necessarily want to pursue the extra income to support their livelihood,” said Tim Sutphin, Hillwinds Farm, Dublin, Va. Sutphin has put about 7,000 cows through his AI system in the 10 years he has implemented the breeding program. “Your farm location, labor and interest in marketing are factors to consider when beginning an AI program.”
Sutphin manages about 700 cows in fall- and spring-calving programs. His cows are a Simmental-Angus-cross. Sutphin also retains ownership on calves. He has selected a timed-AI program since he has just one other person to rely on for help, and then he turns in the bulls.
He sees the guidelines for his AI program as crossbreeding with acceptable conception rates that use predictable genetics and obtain balanced performance, long-lived productive cows and added value carcasses. He adds that balancing cows with steers in the feedlot can be antagonistic.
“When I started AI in 1999, I had a wide variation in calves and wanted more consistency. I wanted to tighten the calving season up,” he said.
In 2000, his first calf crop weaning weights were about 500 lb. Today they are 625 lb.-675 lb., depending on the season. AI-sired calves at weaning allow him to reap the benefits of retaining ownership to slaughter. It increases options to have AI-sired calves and earn more at weaning,
“Our progression in percent Choice or better has gone from 65% to 90% from 2005 to 2010,” he said. “The fun part of cattle breeding is finding cattle that work. Our calf crop today is 75% AI and cow herd is 70% AI. We are gaining 10% more AI every year. Our AI-sired cows produce calves worth $24 per head more than non-AI-sired cows, and our Angus-Simmental calves are worth $16 more per head than the Angus calves.”
While Sutphin said he gives up some performance with AI-sired 2-year-olds to get a live calf, he gets a better genetic package and more value. In calculations comparing his AI operation to a traditional operation, he estimates $251 more per head value with breeding, pregnancy checks, birth and weaning weights, feedyard and packer value and having the cow on farm.
“We maintain a profit per cow of about $150-$200, and that is largely due to AI,” he said. “Otherwise, we might not be in business.”
Kevin Thompson from the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture previously worked with the Tennessee Farm Bureau and Tennessee Beef Producer Alliance. He has found AI can increase calf uniformity, have a positive impact on genetic potential, enhance marketability, increase marketing options and improve management efficiencies.
Use of AI in the marketing alliance program helped multiple producers and herds aim for a common end point. Since the average Tennessee herd is 25 cows, working as a group allowed producers to put together a consistent trailer truckload and add value through genetic selection.
“If you can have uniformity by defining the calving season across the herds, you have won most of the uniformity battle. It is easier with a shorter, 75- to 80-day season,” he said. “We focused on traits like frame size, muscle thickness, color, growth potential and carcass characteristics.”
The alliance used a Co-Synch plus CIDR program to aid with time restriction associated with off-farm jobs and to enable multiple groups to be synchronized and bred over a staggered four- to five-day schedule. Benefits included the reduced number of herd sires required, a larger number of females to conceive early in breeding season, the ability to schedule breeding and more.
The alliance also could maximize efficiencies through commingled health protocols, group age and source verification for sales and for those who like to buy on the grid.
“Improving the genetic potential with AI-sired replacement heifers leads to appropriate breeding age and weight, a positive impact on cow longevity, greater control of performance traits and more accurate sire selections,” Thompson said. “You can get more information to buyers who want it, build your reputation positively and get a greater bidding audience. You also can maintain heterosis with land-restricted herds and get better dystocia control in heifers.”
Thompson cautioned, however, that producers new to AI should be aware of such expectations as more upfront cost, more times through the chute and more time and labor spent breeding.
Editor's Note: This article was written under contract or by staff of Angus Productions Inc. (API), which claims copyright to this article. It may not be published or redistributed without the express permission of API, publisher of the Angus Journal, Angus Beef Bulletin, Angus e-List and Angus Beef Bulletin EXTRA. To request reprint permission and guidelines, contact Shauna Rose Hermel, editor, at 816-383-5270.