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Making Reproductive Technologies Pay: A Commercial Perspective

The advantages of using reproductive technologies have a snowball effect, said Kansas rancher.

“We’ve used AI (artificial insemination) since 1990. We’ve always synched the heifers; that was low-hanging fruit,” said rancher Barb Downey. “Since 2011, we’ve been synchronizing the cows, too.”

Barb Downey“It’s been a snowball effect,” said rancher Barb Downey of implementing reproductive technologies. “The advantages build up for a positive net effect on ranch profit.”

Speaking before the Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle (ARSBC) Workshop hosted Aug. 29-30 in Manhattan, Kan. Downey talked about the cow-calf operation she operates with her husband, Joe Carpenter. She explained how estrous synchronization, AI and other reproductive technologies have improved profitability for their Wamego, Kan., ranch.

“It’s been a snowball effect,” stated Downey. “The advantages build up for a positive net effect on ranch profit.”

According to Downey, the Flint Hills ranch relies primarily on grazed forages, including native grass and grazed crops, and harvested forage plays a steadily declining role. Except for virgin heifers under development, breeding females graze on range year-round. Reducing production inputs is a management goal.

While some cattlemen might question whether extensive AI, following estrous synchronization is a “low-input” practice, Downey said the return justifies the cost. Benefits of AI include the ability to use “proven conception rate” semen from sires representing genetics that promise superior performance. AI also allows the ranch to maintain purebred cows, while using sexed semen to produce purebred replacement females while also operating a crossbreeding program to produce sought-after F1 females to sell.

Estrous synchronization has resulted in a shorter calving season with a high percentage of cows calving in the first 25 days. This allows a longer period of postpartum recovery. The synchronization protocol used on cows provides for timed AI, which eliminated labor associated with heat detection.

Use of sexed semen allows Downey Ranch to produce more replacement-quality heifers, which are developed and bred prior to marketing. Downey cited figures from 2015, when the ranch’s 18-month-old bred heifers brought $2,764 and 15-month-old fed cattle sold for $1,875. Considering respective costs of production, the heifers were worth $684 per head more.

In the past, Downey Ranch hired pregnancy detection, by ultrasound, for heifers only, to determine early which heifers were bred to AI. In 2014, an ultrasound machine was purchased in cooperation with two other area ranches and Downey now uses it for early pregnancy detection on all females. Identifying open cows early, and marketing them prior to the seasonal decline in cull cow price has generated enough more revenue to pay for the ultrasound machine.

In conclusion, Downey listed management strategies that help reproductive technologies do more for the ranch’s bottom line, including implementation of the Sandhills Calving System, which results in cow groupings for easier management of nutrition. Fenceline weaning means cows a penned for five days in September — an opportune time for pregnancy detection and marketing of culls.

Downey spoke during Tuesday’s ARSBC session focused on application of reproductive technologies. Visit the Newsroom at, which features comprehensive coverage of the symposium, to view her PowerPoint or to listen to her presentation. Compiled by the Angus Journal editorial team, the site is made possible through sponsorship by the Beef Reproduction Task Force. To access video of the presentations, visit the Beef Reproduction Task Force page on Facebook.

The 2017 ARSBC Symposium was hosted by the Task Force and Kansas State University Research & Extension. Next year’s symposium will be Aug. 29-30 in Ruidoso, N.M.

Editor's Note: This article was written under contract or by staff of the Angus Journal, an Angus Media publication. To request reprint permission and guidelines, contact Shauna Rose Hermel, editor, at 816-383-5270.