AI Benefits, Challenges in the Southeast
by Barb Baylor Anderson for Angus Productions Inc.
NASHVILLE, TENN. (Aug. 6, 2010) — The percentage of beef producers using artificial insemination (AI) remains relatively low. Dee Whittier, Extension cattle veterinarian in Virginia, encouraged Southeastern beef producers to consider the benefits of AI and weigh them against the challenges. He spoke at the Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle (ARSBC) Conference in Nashville, Tenn.
Top responses why Southeastern producers did not use AI included the perception that the technology did not return good results; excessive amount of time and labor required to apply the technology; insufficient facilities to apply the technology; cost; and perception that AI is too complicated, shared Dee Whittier, Virginia Extension cattle veterinarian.
Whittier cites another USDA study where beef cow-calf operators were asked why they had not used reproductive technologies. Top responses included perception that the technology did not return good results; excessive amount of time and labor required to apply the technology; insufficient facilities to apply the technology; cost; and perception that AI is too complicated.
"To increase AI in the Southeast, we must deal effectively with the 'too complicated' reason," he said. "We also must change the perception that time and labor constraints outweigh the cost. AI time per cow decreases as herd size increases, and we have a lot of smaller herds."
In the nine states that make up the region, 24.1% of farms reported beef cows in 2007. Only 19.3% of the U.S. beef herd is in the Southeast with an average 32.2 cows per herd. Only Florida exceeds the average U.S. herd size and has 22% of cows in herds greater than 199 head.
"We know that as herd size increases, along with the associated financial and time commitment, the likelihood that there is a major profit motive in the ownership of cattle increases. Although it would seem that making a profit would be the major incentive to own a beef herd, that is not true in many cases (in the Southeast)," Whittier said. "Producers own cattle for recreation, for esthetic reasons, for tax purposes, for historical and traditional reasons and more.
Regardless of herd size or reasons for owning cattle, if producers were to better understand the benefits AI can offer vs. natural service, the current trend might change. Whittier noted some of the non-genetic reasons to consider are greater control over reproduction in the herd, some enhancement of reproductive outcomes, some safety from disease and a decrease in bull costs.
"The biggest justification for AI is the superior genetics that can be obtained through AI," he stressed. "You have the ability to mate each cow to a selected bull and match the characteristics of a cow with a particular sire. But it also extends to use of other breeds without the significant commitment of creating entire breeding pastures where different sire breeds can be utilized."
There are, however, some challenges to the improved genetics. Producers may want to receive higher returns for AI-sired offspring. That may not always be the case. Bulls have been identified that sire offspring more likely to grade Choice, but decreasing additional value has been assigned to carcasses that grade Choice compared to ones that grade Select. He said the decline in enhanced Choice carcass value has been disappointing for many producers.
"Once genetic traits with potential economic value are identified and propagated, the tendency is for animals with those traits to begin to lose their economic edge," he said. "Alliances have been formed to market increased value, but without the long-term progress of these alliances, there is insufficient incentive for producers to develop long-standing AI programs."
Whittier said the goal for greater AI use should be to become routine, especially in larger operations.
"The technology has never been utilized to its full potential in the beef industry, particularly in commercial operations," he summed. "In order to achieve greater use, the perception of excessive time and labor must be overcome. As cow-calf operations become larger, they may have more resources and be able to utilize economies of scale to increase AI programs."
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