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Why are we leaving reproductive technology sitting on the shelf?

Increasing reproductive efficiency with technology at hand is vital to improving beef production.

November 25, 2019

3 Min Read
Preg checking cows
Jamie Purfeerst

Many technologies developed in the last 20 to 30 years have helped increase reproductive efficiency. Some producers were early adopters and have used these technologies successfully for years. Yet, there’s still room for more technology adoption, as USDA's National Animal Health Monitoring System data indicates only:

  • 18% of operations palpate for pregnancies

  • 2.2% ultrasound for pregnancies

  • 7.9% use estrus synchronization

  • 7.6% use artificial insemination (A.I.)

Taking a step back, 54.5% of cow-calf producers don't have a set calving season. Those herds account for more than a third of the total U.S. cow herd. 

These statistics are not meant to call out any single herd or producer. As an industry, we need to progress if we want to feed a growing population. And it’s up to all of us to help ensure we can.

Adopting reproductive technologies that have been sitting on the shelf will help get cows bred, improve profitability and feed a growing population.

Technologies on a shelf

A multitude of reproductive technologies exist, but here are a few that producers should be taking advantage of if they aren’t already:

  • Estrus synchronization. A lot of people associate estrus synchronization with A.I., but those two don't have to be linked. Operations employing natural service can use estrus synchronization to move the cow herd forward into the breeding season by getting more cows cycling early. Doing this will help shorten the calving window and ultimately lead to a more uniform calf crop to market down the road.

  • Breeding indicators. A breeding indicator is a self-adhesive patch many producers have used primarily for heat detection. As cows are mounted, the surface ink of the patch rubs off to reveal an indicator color. Once a certain amount of color is exposed, typically 50%, the animal is considered in standing heat and ready to breed.

  • Pregnancy diagnosis. Knowing if a cow or heifer is pregnant allows producers to make management decisions much sooner than if they wait until the subsequent calving season. They can decide to sell an open animal or roll the animal from a spring calving group into a fall calving group, if they have the option.

Related:Genetic evaluations: Refining the toolbox

The adoption investment

When it comes to technology adoption, there’s always some investment required. It may be labor, time or dollars. Evaluate how technology costs stack up with opportunity costs.

For instance, let's say a producer paid $5,000 for a natural service sire, which provided breed average genetics. The next year the bull is culled because of lameness or low fertility. The bull only sells for $1,000 at cull price, so that is $4,000 of opportunity cost.

Related:How do you find balance in your genetics? 4 commercial ranches share tips

Instead, that $5,000 could be invested in the highest quality genetics available through A.I. From an efficiency point of view, you can move the herd forward because those genetics are going to lead to more pounds from your calves and enhanced calf value. At the end of the day, if producers can capture value using technology, it offers more opportunity to improve profit. 

What's at stake (or steak)

Looking forward, beef producers must find efficiencies to help feed a growing population. Projections from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations state that nearly double the amount of meat will need to be produced by 2050 to feed 9.1 billion people.

In beef production terms, 2050 is not that far away. It's only 31 calf crops. If we don't start to use efficiency-enhancing technologies, we may quickly wind up 15-20 calf crops down the road with limited improvements.

Pohler is assistant professor of beef cattle production/physiology of reproduction at Texas A&M University. Source: ESTROTECT, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

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