Artificial Insemination of Beef Cattle - Is It Practical?

January 2008
Jim Selph - Extension Agent IV, CED/Livestock/Forages/Wildlife

About 27 years ago, W.M. Marsh, Charles Harmon, Marcia Rodgers, Chrystine Holley and I went to a 3 day school to learn how to artificially inseminate cattle. Since that time, I have artificially bred a fairly good number of cattle, have taught Artificial Insemination (A.I.) at our Reproductive Management Schools and have worked with operations that have gone into A.I. programs. Would I recommend the use of A.I. for the average rancher? Absolutely not! Does it work and is it profitable? Absolutely!

Now, I have just written 2 questions and given my answer which seems to contradict one another. The reality though is that they do not. The average person will try something like this for one or two years. The reality is that it takes at least 4 to 5 years to become proficient in an A.I. breeding program. I am not referring to the technical aspect of artificially breeding a cow, but rather the whole of the process that is involved in an A.I. program. For A.I. to work well, the following bullets are just some of the things that are needed for success:

  • Cattle that are at least a body condition score 5 or higher and are on an increasing nutritional plane!
  • Excellent handling facilities!
  • Fairly docile cattle that are used to being handled and worked quietly and regularly in the pens!
  • A highly organized producer who is willing to spend a lot of time observing his cattle for heat!
  • A producer who maintains excellent cattle records and, takes the time to study what he has recorded and then utilizes that information to make good sound management decisions!
  • Doing a good job of matching A.I. Bulls to the cow herd!
  • Having and maintaining an excellent Herd Health Program and maintaining clean facilities and equipment!
  • Having an excellent A.I. Technician who is dedicated to his job!
  • Excellent maintained storage facilities for A.I. Equipment, including a regularly checked semen tank!

If you do or have the above, then considering the use of an A.I. program might be a fit for you. If you then can do a good job at heat detection, choosing and maintaining quality semen, properly handling of semen at the time of artificially breeding and the correct placement of the semen into the cow then you can have a successful A.I. program. If you asked me what the hardest part is (it is all hard), I would tell you that really learning how to determine heat in cattle is the hardest part that I have found for most who try and it is probably why most give up early on.

Dr. Joel Yelich, Associate Professor, Reproductive Physiology, says that heat detection is certainly difficult particularly in Bos indicus (Brahman) cattle. Joel goes on to say that they are difficult to detect heat because they have an increased incidence of silent heats, and show heat at night. There are aids to help detect estrous in cattle (both Bos indicus and Bos tarsus) such as Estrotect. Other aids such as chin ball markers, altered or deviated bulls that will spot the cows in heat and not be able to actually fertilize an ovum are all options in an A.I. Program.

A comment I often hear in discussions about A.I. programs is that it is ok for small ranches that have the time for it, but it will not work on large ranches. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Gardner Angus Ranch in Ashland Kansas when my son was doing a student internship there. Gardner Angus Ranch is a working family ranch that had no other source of income other than ranching. At the time I visited their ranch, they ran about 1700 head of cattle and exclusively relied on A.I. and embryo transfer for all of the breeding of their cattle.

If you have an interest and would like to talk in detail about an A.I. program for your ranch contact your local livestock extension agent or give me a call (863-993-4846) at the DeSoto County Extension Office.

The use of product names in this article is solely for the purpose of providing specific information and does not constitute a recommendation. UF/IFAS does not guarantee or warranty the products named, and references to them in this article does not signify our approval to the exclusion of other products of suitable composition. All products should be used in accordance with directions on the manufacturer's label and instructions.

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