Few beef producers would disagree that the genetic potential available for use in their herds via artificial insemination (AI) is greater than that of most natural service sires. The advantage of using AI stems from the improvement in the predictability of the bulls; their EPDs are simply more accurate and reliable.
However, less than 10% of the beef cows in the U.S. are artificially inseminated each year (NAHMS, 2008). Many reasons exist for the low rate of implementation of estrus synchronization and AI (ESAI) into beef cow-calf operations. One factor that limits the use of ESAI in commercial cow-calf herds is the hassle factor. It is simply too much effort to gather the herd and work them 2-3 times in a 10-day period. However, the major reason, in my opinion, is that most producers cannot capture the added value of their AI-sired calves and the enterprise is not profitable.
Two real questions arise when thinking about using ESAI. First, are calves sired via AI more valuable? Second, how can a commercial cow-calf producer capture some of this value? These two questions have been investigated in an Advanced Master Cattleman program sponsored by the Kentucky Beef Network and the Agriculture Development Board. The goal of this program was to determine if steers sired by AI bulls proven in feedlot and carcass performance could actually perform better in the finishing phase and if these steers generated more revenue and were more profitable.
This project started in the fall of 2007 with seven producers in Washington, Marion and Nelson counties and has continued through this last breeding season. More than 900 head from 15 producers across Kentucky were bred this fall alone. Each breeding season, estrus is synchronized and females in these herds are time-inseminated to an Angus, Polled Hereford, Simmental or Charolais sire. The sires used are proven trait leaders in their respective breeds in feedlot and carcass performance. After weaning, the calves are vaccinated and backgrounded about 60 days. These producers retain ownership on their steers and they are sent to a feedlot in Kansas for finishing and harvest. Feedlot and carcass data have been collected on 139 head of steers sired either by an AI sire or a natural service sire.
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