The small herd of registered shorthorns quietly gave little attention to the woman in the truck. But today was a big day for them, whether they knew it or not. Jess Ropp, Coastal E-Marketing Manager and co-owner of Ropp Family Farm, along with his wife Greta and their six children, had hired Justine Ferguson to artificially inseminate their cattle. While artificial insemination (AI) isn’t ideal for every livestock owner, it can be a smart and cost-effective alternative to the age-old practice of keeping your own bull.
As Jess sees it, AI is an opportunity to bring the best genetics from anywhere in North America to his livestock.
“I can pick any bull I want,” Jess added flipping through a catalog of sires with expected progeny differences (EPDs) carefully listed in clear detail. “AI allows me to accentuate traits and build better cattle much cheaper and much faster than owning a bull.”
Even if he had a bull, Jess added, it would be impractical to own one with the superior genetics of the bulls he can access with AI.
“I can even breed to one bull one year and then try another the following season,” he said, pushing another of his cattle toward the chute. “I can look at the bull’s EPD and know if a bull will help throw smaller calves or if it will influence milk production or certain desired growth traits. Genetics is a big deal.”
Jess isn’t alone in his conclusion. Researchers with Oregon State University’s Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station have reported similar findings. With the right bull, livestock owners like Jess can encourage strong hereditary traits, such as calf growth, beef production, and overall health.
While nothing is perfect, AI has been shown to be cost-effective for small herds like those at the Ropp Family Farm. With larger herds, most experts agree that a mixture of AI and sending bulls in with the cows can be more effective.
Benefits of AI
In as much time as it takes most people to check their social media or reply to a few emails, Justine Ferguson has pulled the predetermined semen straw out of the liquid nitrogen tank and placed it into a thaw bath. This small, water-filled tank evenly heats the semen to between 96 and 98º.
Once it’s up to temperature, she has just 10 minutes to get it onto the insemination gun, gently thread that into the cow’s cervix, and complete the insemination.
It sounds easy in writing, but the pressure is intense.
“The semen is sensitive to UV light, heat, cold, and just about everything else,” Justine said with a chuckle.
As an artificial insemination expert and GENEX rep, Justine easily shared the pros and cons of AI and how it can outweigh owning a bull for livestock owners like Jess.
“You’ll spend some time on your AI program,” Justine added, readying another frozen straw filled with bull semen. “And there is a cost for the frozen semen, the farm call to get the person out to your place, and the actual insemination. But you get a confirmed delivery date with a two-week window. When you put a bull out with the herd for 60-90 days, you get a 60- to 90-day window. Even then, you cannot always be sure they’re pregnant.”
To ensure his cows are pregnant after their AI, Jess will do a specific blood test.
Depending on the sire, other benefits can include increased weaning weight and calf uniformity, added productivity of the herd, and better reproductive performance. Of course, some livestock owners do a combination of AI and the old-fashioned method. It all depends on the needs of the herd, what the rancher is trying to accomplish, and economics.
Benefits of the Bull
An AI program can be more labor intensive at the start. Putting a bull out with the cows is a lot easier than rustling-up each cow, synchronizing your herd’s ovulation with drugs, picking the perfect sire, and finding the right technician who knows what they’re doing.
Fact is, quite a few livestock owners will do a mixture of AI and bulls, depending on what they need.
Coastal Knows Cows
Stop by your Northwest owned and operated Coastal where you’ll find everything you need for your herd, including supplements, vaccinations, wormer, waterers, and feed. While you’re at the store, be sure to check out our full line of boots and footwear for work, fashion, and a weekend of country living and relaxation.