genetics in beef cow herds

The use of artificial insemination to improve genetics in beef cow herds has advanced along with other technology, such as estrus synchronization.

Using artificial insemination (AI) to change genetics is becoming more attractive to some commercial cattle producers.

Julie Walker, Extension beef specialist with South Dakota State University, says producers are taking advantage of advances in technology to improve genetics in their herd.

“They are able to use proven sires to make the changes they need,” she says.

Walker says seedstock producers have long used AI when it comes to genetic changes. She says with the data available through breed associations, commercial producers can select sires based on proven traits without the expense of buying a bull.

Estrus detection technology allows producers to pinpoint the optimum time for using AI, Walker says.

There are costs associated with AI usage. Most producers will hire technicians to work with the cows, and some incur expenses for storage tanks.

Breeding heifers is a popular use for AI, she says.

“Some producers will buy a ‘heifer bull’ — a bull with good calving ease traits that will help make it easier for the heifer,” Walker says. “They could also use AI on that heifer, too.”

Advances in estrus synchronization have pushed many commercial producers toward AI, says Denise Schwab, Extension beef specialist with Iowa State University in Vinton, Iowa.

“If you can breed cows in a group, you are going to get more bred in the first week or two,” she says. “If a calf gains 2 pounds per day, you are going to have 60 extra pounds at weaning.”

It allows producers to bring in an AI technician for one day, rather than several. Estrus synchronization also tightens the calving window, Schwab says.

She says heifers bred early in the season will also have more time to get back into condition after calving.

“Those heifers will be in better shape the following year,” Schwab says.

But she says a cleanup bull is a necessity even when AI is used.

“You are going to need a good cleanup bull to make sure the cows are all bred,” Schwab says, adding using AI is not a guarantee cows will be bred successfully.

Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.