There are many benefits in using artificial insemination in the suckler herd, with access to the best genetics available at a low cost in comparison to the purchase of a top-class stock bull.
However, there is an additional workload associated with AI and it may not be feasible on some farms based on the layout, labour availability, or handling facilities.
Here we look at points to consider when thinking about getting rid of the stock bull and moving to AI.
When the stock bull is running with the herd, he is looking after heat detection and inseminating the cows. Apart from daily herd checks by the farmer, the breeding is left for him to take care of.
With AI the farmer will have to dedicate time to watching cows and observing them for heat behaviour. 4 periods of at least 20 mins per day is the recommendation with the best time to observe for heats being early in the morning or late in the evening. This may not be feasible in some situations where labour is limited, heat detection aids are useful, tail painting or using a Moocall Heat collar on a vasectomised bull drastically reduces the labour aspect of picking up cows in heat, but good management is still important.
Fragmented farms can be an obstacle to AI, with cows having to be kept in different groups increasing the workload again in terms of heat detection.
Where farms are fragmented it may also be difficult or even impossible in some cases to gather cows in to be inseminated.
Farm Infrastructure/Handling Facilites
Unlike dairy cows, suckler cows are not coming into the parlour twice a day for milking so there isn’t the same opportunity to draft cows while they are in the yard. Suckler cows are also generally not as easily handled, good handling facilities and infrastructure are a must for carrying out AI without stress on both the farmer and the cow!
Having fields split in paddocks and having cows used to being moved to fresh grass regularly, gets them used to being moved and handled and easier to get in for insemination. Farm roadways are the ideal but in the absence of roadways, channels made using temporary electric fences can be a great help.
A good crush and head-locking gate is essential to carry out AI safely.
Technician or DIY
The final point to consider is whether to go down the route of DIY AI or just having a technician come in to do the job.
For smaller herds it may not be feasible to buy an AI flask and keep it maintained with liquid nitrogen, depending on the cow numbers it would be more cost effective to use a technician.
In large herds it can be cheaper to maintain an AI flask and purchase straws in bulk, it also offers more flexibility in terms of timing of AI and selection of AI bulls, most importantly though the farmer carrying out AI must be suitable trained and effective at the job, the cost savings can quickly be wiped out if insemination technique is poor and cows are not going in-calf.
For further advice on any of the above, please contact a member of the Moocall team to speak to some of our breeding specialists on +353 1 96 96 038 or email firstname.lastname@example.org