Vet’s Voice: Evaluate bulls, options as breeding season approaches
March 11, 2016
Spring has sprung and calving season is upon us. Last week we had five inches of snow, but the 70-degree temperatures melted it very rapidly. It is hard to believe we must be planning our breeding for next year's calves. There are several things we can do to prepare and become more efficient.
Examine your bull battery. Check your bulls and decide if any need to be culled for lameness, or other health reasons. We have many producers semen evaluating their bulls now. We didn't have a lot of cold weather and we are not seeing any problems from frost bite. Testing now can remove injured and non-breeding bulls as well as bulls which were less fertile than others. This allows you to treat the bulls or select replacement at remaining bull sales. If you vaccinate these bulls before turnout, we don't recommend live virus products within sixty days of breeding. Research has demonstrated live products replicate in the testicles for up to sixty days. We are not sure if this causes a problem but we do occasionally see bulls which have become transiently infertile after testing and vaccination. No smoking gun but we aren't willing to risk problems during the sixty days the bull is needed for breeding.
Artificial insemination is a great way to rapidly increase the quality of your herd. We believe an artificially inseminated cow or heifer's calf is about 100 pounds heavier at weaning. Yes, it is true they will be born earlier than the rest of the herd, but you will see the increased thickness and superior structure. Recent development of synchronization programs has aided implementation of time breeding. The evolution of the CIDR has made estrogen administration safe and easy. The other hormones utilized are also improving. The cost for synchronization is still less than $15. Good quality semen can be purchased for $25.00 per straw. In larger groups arm service (breeding) is about $5. That totals about $45.00 per cow bred. If you achieve a 66% conception rate you will have $60-$65 invested per calf born. A $7500 bull breeding 30 cows per year for five years ($7,500 – $2,500 = $5,000 divided by 150 calves equals $33 per calf). If you add $2,000 for feed in the bull's life expectancy, ($2,000 divided by 150 = $14) that brings your total to close to $50 per calf. Use your own figures to calculate cost. We feel this is not a cost, but a breeding investment. If you aren't able to inseminate your cows, there are many technicians able to service hundreds per day. Consult with them to schedule a time which fits your calving schedule.
Genetic testing is a recent advancement in heifer selection. It allows you to rapidly improve certain traits in your herd. Natural selection may take a lifetime, but with genomic testing years can be eliminated from the process. One important aspect is bull selection. If you know the genetic makeup of the heifer or cow, and the battery of bulls, exact matchups for genetic potentiation can be selected. This is tough for old-schoolers like me. We like to think we can look at the critter and pick what we need. Genetics don't lie, but they're not always pretty.
As the national cow herd grows it is important to improve our herds as rapidly as possible to increase our efficiency. Consult with your veterinarian, nutritionalist, extension specialist or A.I. technician and see if any of these management procedures will benefit your operation. Attention to detail and implementation of new management and selection technologies will improve the economic efficiency of your herd.