Figures from ICBF in Ireland show that typically only about 25% of all calves born in suckler herds are from an AI sire, the remaining 75% are sired by stock bulls. Reasons farmers give against going down the AI route are typically the difficulty in observing cows in heat and the additional handling facilities and time needed to draft cows for AI in a grazing scenario. There are benefits to using AI, and with some consideration and good management it can be done successfully on many suckler farms.
Access to top Genetics
Using AI gives the suckler farmer access to the best genetics available at a low cost in comparison to purchasing a top end stock bull. Using the best genetics can drive profitability on farm due better performance of the progeny produced.
Progeny of high genetic merit sires will have:
- Higher Daily Liveweight Gain
- Better Calf Quality
- Higher Sale Price
- Better replacements produced and continued herd improvement
Using AI offers more selection on the type of sire used. It gives the farmer the option to select from different breeds and sire types. Bulls that pass on good maternal qualities to their daughters can be used selectively within the herd to produce top quality replacement heifers. Sires with good terminal traits can be used to increase the performance and value of calves that intend to be sold for beef. AI also gives the ability to select proven easy calving sires for use on heifers or cows that have had difficulty calving in the past. With a stock bull it is almost impossible to tick all the boxes, that way AI can give more flexibility within the breeding policy.
With stock bulls there is always a risk of a bull being infertile or sub-fertile, which can lead to lulls in the calving period, late calving cows or cows simply not going in-calf at all. If using AI, cows will be inseminated with consistently good quality semen when all handling and AI procedures have been followed correctly, giving the best chance of conception to service.
More Cost effective for Smaller Herds
For smaller herds it is difficult to justify the cost of going out and purchasing a quality stock bull. The average cost of purchasing a stock bull is €2,000-€4,000. If you take the example of a 20 cow herd, if the bull is purchased at €2,000, then the cost of keeping the bull for 4 years is considered less the price obtained when sold again the average cost per calf produced is €32.50. At a purchase price of €3,000 this rises to €45 per calf. At an average cost of €30 for first serve and €10 for repeat service, AI can be a more cost-effective alternative for smaller herds.
For AI to be successful on a suckler farm there are some key considerations that need to be looked at in order to achieve good submission rates and conception, while trying to make it as stress free as possible for the farmer.
Cows should be at a target body condition score of 2.5 at mating. To achieve this in a spring calving herd cows should be on a good plane of nutrition grazing the best leafy grass available to be able to build body condition. Mineral status is also key with a pre-breeding mineral dose or bolus advisable.
Good handling facilities and a plan makes the job of AI less stressful for the cows and for the farmer. A good field layout/paddock system helps, temporary electric fences and reels are useful for making roadways or channels to run cows in for AI, a small bit of meal feeding can also help coax cows in. Cows get used to a routine, running cows in for meal feeding early in the season will get them used to being brought in and handled.
Heat detection can be the most difficult aspect of using AI in the suckler herd, suckler cows tend to have shorter standing heats in comparison to dairy cows and can be more difficult to see in standing heat. If using observation you will need to spend at least 30 minutes three times a day watching cows for signs of heat, early morning and late evening tend to be the best times.
Ideally a heat detection aid should be used to reduce the amount of time watching cows and reduce the chances of missing a heat. Vasectomised bulls are particularly useful as they will even detect those shorter/silent heats where a cow only stands for a very short period. Scratch-cards or tail-paint can also be helpful.
Moocall Heat is a heat detection aid suitable for using in the suckler herd. A Moocall HEAT collar is fitted to a vasectomised bull, all cows are tagged with a Moocall RFID tag. The technology works by monitoring the bull’s activity within the herd, the farmer receives a text message when the vasectomised bull detects a cow in standing heat, giving the optimum time to 12-14 hours later.
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