AI tips & tricks
March 31, 2014
The back of every semen catalog includes pages of effective AI synchronization protocols. While increasingly useful and situation-targeted, the fact remains that they are hardly a detail-rich explanation of what will actually work best on a given operation. For that knowledge, one must look to those who practice the art and hear what they've found does and does not work in their experiences.
AI synchronization protocols are provided as breeding options because they work, but that isn't to say they can't be tweaked in some instances to maximize their effectiveness. "One of the biggest tips I learned occurred while I was working for an AI company, Nationwide Artificial Breeders, in Australia. The company AI's over 100,000 head in a year. They would only breed once a day instead of twice a day, or every 12 hours, as I had been taught," began Lori Britton of Wheatland, Wyo. Britton has been working as an AI technician for 16 years in addition to helping more than 550 other people learn the art through the AI schools she instructs.
"It went against everything I had ever been taught, and really bothered me at first. But, when we were done I learned we were getting the same conception rates with once-a-day breeding as were common in the U.S. with twice-a-day breeding," continued Britton.
Upon returning to the U.S. many of Britton's customers inquired about her experience. After hearing of the once-a-day AI option, two ranchers chose to give it a try.
"When they completed the first year – about 500 total cows, each customer dropped their conception percentage by a single percent. They were so excited because of the amount of time they were able to save going to AI'ing just once a day. Both say they will never go back to a twice-a-day program, and really appreciate the reduced stress on both them and their livestock," explained Britton.
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Valier Mont. registered Angus producer Mark DeBoo of Diamond D Angus has been AI'ing for over 20 years. He too found ways to improve upon existing protocols, particularly when AI'ing yearling heifers.
"We have tried a lot of different methods, and the last time we AI'id heifers we left the CIDR's in for two weeks instead of for seven days as the protocol states, then continued with the shots and heat detection the same as if we had followed the seven day protocol. It worked well and I think we picked up a few more because of it," noted DeBoo.
Genex's Clarence Schumacher has had clients pick up as many as 10-15 percent more heifers through leaving CIDR's in 14 days versus seven.
"That is one adaptation that seems to be working very well. If you pull the CIDRs at 14 days, you would give the shot of lutalyse or estrumate 16 days later, or on day 30. Then, put on Estrus Alert patches, and breed everything that has shown estrus on day 33. Anything that hasn't shown estrus can be given a shot on day 33 and bred 20 hours later. You'll pick up even more doing that at the end," he suggested.
Britton had a client face a situation where they had to attend a funeral on the day they were scheduled to pull CIDR's, which caused her to research whether it's better to pull them a couple days early or late in such a scenario.
"Never pull them early," she stated. "But, it's ok to leave them in a day or two longer. It doesn't have to be seven days or 14 days. But, again, you will not be alright if you pull them after only six days," she said.
Before and after
Proper feeding before and after breeding, especially in yearling heifers, is another key aspect of any AI program that cannot be stressed enough.
"The main part of any successful AI program is to have those heifers cycling before you start AI'ing – that's where increased conception is at. If they haven't cycled prior to synchronization, conception will be poor," noted Schumacher.
But, while heifers need to be grown up enough to reach sexual maturity at least one month prior to the beginning a breeding regime, that should not be mistaken with the need to have them too fat, which will also cause a reduction in conception rates.
"We have stopped feeding our yearling heifers any grain, cake or other supplements for about 10 years now, and that also eliminates feeding MGA. That is because we focus on a moderate, easy fleshing female, and we learned that when those heifers were carrying more condition and we put CIDRs in them or gave them reproduction shots, more of the drug was tied up in the fat glands, which reduced our synchronization program's effectiveness," explained DeBoo.
Britton echoed his concern, adding that when reproductive drugs are tied up in fat cells it causes the animal to respond late, or not at all, to the synchronization efforts and costs.
"Cows should not be too fat either. I had some clients this fall whose cattle were in really good shape – I'm talking about the pockets of fat around their tailheads, and when they got their preg testing results back their conception rates to AI were lower than the year before. Everything else was the same except their condition – the semen, myself as the tech, my son as the assistant, the facilities and the time year.
Following AI, one of the most common questions Britton gets is what timeframe is best to move cattle in an effort to maximize conception rates.
"It is best to move them immediately after AI, and by that I mean within the first 4-5 days. Around two weeks hormones begin telling the mother the embryo is there, and if you stress them at that point adrenaline can easily overpower that embryo and cause a loss of pregnancy," she noted.
But, that isn't the only sensitive timeframe, as some have been taught.
"Around 30 days implantation occurs, and that is another time that they do not need to be stressed. Everything important is starting at that point, and you do not want to be out moving or stressing them then either," explained Britton.
Schumacher added the necessity of maintaining an increasing plane of nutrition post-AI, explaining that dropping the quality of diet can cause the mother to reabsorb the embryo.
"You can't have them too fat before you start, and you can't turn them out on nothing when you're finished if you want to see some success. You need to make sure where you're going after AI has better available nutrition than where they're coming from," he commented.
"The main thing for people interested in AI'ing is to keep in mind that you have to be careful. Just because there is a full-page glossy picture of a bull in a catalog doesn't necessarily mean that's a good direction to go. That's my biggest piece of advice," said DeBoo of the fact that selection methods cannot become lax simply because an AI sire is being used over a purchased sire.
"Another tip is to use a heat detecting aids. I love the Estrus Alert patches, particularly in a couple instances where my clients turn their cattle out at night and bring them into the corral in the morning. We've found that several will be lying around resting while they're in the corral if they were in a standing heat overnight. If not for their worn estrus detection patch we wouldn't have caught them. At a little over one dollar a patch it is easily paid for in any AI program in my opinion," stated Britton.
While patches are helpful, there is no substitute for being out there with the cattle heat detecting. Patches aren't a 100 percent guarantee.
"If you're not 100 percent sure, and haven't seen her stand but your instincts are telling you there are many other outwards signs, more times than not if you're a person that's been around cattle your instincts are going to be right," she commented.
And, if you're a beginner to AI, Britton encouraged taking your time and not becoming frustrated. When you start battling your head, it will hurt your conception rate. When you're AI'ing, don't count the ones you struggle with. Instead, keep your mind on doing the best you can and staying confident, even when you do struggle," she concluded.