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Manage cattle for success with estrus synchronization, artificial insemination

This group of cattle is being worked for artificial imsemination breeding. Photo courtesy NDSU

NDSU livestock specialists offer advice on artificial insemination in cattle.

Using estrus synchronization and artificial insemination to control breeding in cattle has several benefits, according to North Dakota State University livestock experts.

"Artificial insemination (AI) offers the opportunity to use semen from high-accuracy, genetically superior sires at a fraction of the cost of purchasing a herd bull of similar genetics," says NDSU Extension Service beef cattle specialist Carl Dahlen.

"In addition, using estrus synchronization and AI can increase the number of calves born earlier in the calving season and increase weaning weights of calves," he notes. "An additional benefit comes as calving approaches with the ability to precision feed a group of cattle with a similar stage of gestation."

For best results with AI, cows should be on an increasing plane of nutrition, on a consistent diet, at least 45 days postpartum and in a low-stress environment.

Producers have several recommended options for synchronizing cows and/or heifers. The recommendations can be found at http://beefrepro.unl.edu/resources.html.

"These protocols have been tested in thousands of cattle at multiple locations before recommendation by a group of industry and academic experts called the Beef Reproduction Task Force," says Karl Hoppe, Extension area livestock systems specialist at NDSU's Carrington Research Extension Center.

Here are some steps Dahlen and Hoppe suggest to maximize pregnancy rates with AI:

• Work cattle calmly – Each person working cattle always should practice calm, low-stress handling techniques through adequate facilities, or stress may lead to poor results. Moving cattle calmly through facilities several times in advance of the breeding season can reduce the stress of subsequent handling events and improve cattle temperament, and may increase pregnancy rates.

• Be diligent with heat detection – Producers who use protocols that include heat detection must identify cows that are in heat. Not catching cows that come into heat will lead to disappointing results. Old rules of thumb of conducting heat detection 30 minutes per day morning and evening likely will result in missed heats, so consider more frequent and longer heat detection periods.

• Strive for complete compliance with synchronization protocols – Each task at each working event is required for successful synchronization, and impacts of noncompliance, such as missed cattle, improper injections, CIDRs (controlled internal drug release technology) left in, etc., are additive. If every task is completed correctly 90 percent of the time and a protocol requires three working events, the end result would be that 72.9 percent of females are synchronized correctly (.90 × .90 × .90 = 72.9 percent). Strive for complete compliance when executing tasks to limit negative additive effects.

• Handle semen and inseminate with proper technique – Proper semen handling begins when the semen arrives on the ranch. Transfer semen from dry shippers to storage tanks as soon as possible, and make sure the tanks have plenty of nitrogen and are kept in a safe place. Thawing semen, loading AI guns and insemination all need to be done correctly. Producers wishing to AI their cows need to be proficient at AI or should consider hiring an AI technician.

• Work with the weather – Although producers cannot control it, they need to understand the impacts that weather can have. For summer breeding seasons with heat in the forecast, be sure to schedule working and breeding activities for the coolest period of the day when possible. Early morning (first light) is the time of day when cattle's body temperature is the coolest. If cattle working is required during peak periods of sunlight and heat, provide shade and water when possible and ample space for cattle to spread out in staging areas. Also ensure that cattle spend as little time as possible in closely confined portions of working facilities.

• Plan post-AI movement and nutrition carefully – Whenever possible, transport cattle from day one to four after AI or delay shipment until 45 days after AI to avoid transport-induced pregnancy losses. For dry lot-developed females, adapt them to summer grass for a period prior to breeding or consider supplementing them on pasture to reduce losses associated with rapid diet and environment changes.

"Many factors can contribute to the success of an AI breeding program," Dahlen says. "Concentrating on managing factors that we can influence is imperative to maximize pregnancy rates and the number of AI calves born in an operation."

–NDSU Extension