This week, Andrew and Arista are in Okeechobee attending artificial insemination (AI) school. With Nick leaving for college in August, I thought it might be a good idea to have a couple of other people around, other than me, who know how to AI. But you may be wondering, why not just keep a bull around to get the job done? Let the cows have a little fun before they have to push that 80 pound calf out in 9 months! So let’s talk about artificial insemination and why it’s the method we (and many other cattle breeders) prefer to create the next generation of our herd.
Bulls, particularly dairy breed bulls, can be aggressive and unpredictable. “But I’ve raised that bull calf since it was born! He is so sweet and would never turn on me!” I don’t care how long we’ve had a bull or how sweet they appear to be; bulls are not to be trusted. Yes, we do keep a few bulls for back up breeding, but the day they begin to show aggression, they are GONE. It’s not worth it. Too many people have lost their lives or been injured because of a bull turned bad or territorial.
Not only can bulls be a safety issue to the people handling them, but a 1500 – 2000 pound bull trying to repeatedly mount a much smaller female can also lead to serious injury to the animal. Beyond physical safety, bringing in an outside bull to your herd can lead to health problems. Yes, even cattle can carry STDs.
Using AI, you literally have the entire world of cattle genetics from which to choose your cow’s next mate. The bull you may deem ideal for your show heifer, may live in another state or even country, but a little liquid nitrogen can have him at the ready the next time she’s in heat. There are so many traits and specialties out there that you can look at when selecting bulls to make every generation better. There is sexed semen that makes it more likely the calf will be a heifer, fertility rates, bulls that are proven to have daughters that produce high fat and protein rates, or will be winners in the show ring. The possibilities are endless.
Also, when breeding naturally, animals are indiscriminate. If the time is right, and a female is in heat and with a bull, they won’t care it’s their mom, sister, cousin or aunt. That bull is going to try to mate and if the heifer or cow is in estrus, she’s probably going to let him. This can obviously lead to a load of genetic problems if allowed to happen.
When a bull is just left out with the herd, there is no control over when that animal will be bred. With AI, we can decide when we want that to happen. Even though we milk our cows at home now for raw milk, the main reason we’ve always had cattle is to show them, so it’s important to try to have the cows at the peak or prime time of their lactation when they are headed to the show ring. Most of our big shows in Florida occur between January and April, with a few sprinkled in through the fall, so we try to breed our cows to calve between September and January. It’s also helpful to plan when that show calf will be born so that it is preferably at the beginning of her class at the shows. Most people breeding show cows will want calves born in September, December, March, and June.
Timing is also important in planning for when demand is going to be the highest for milk or when it may not be ideal weather conditions for calving. We really try to avoid having calves born in the summer. It’s just too hot here which can put a lot of extra stress on the cows. For commercial dairies, their demand is going to pick up in the fall when school is back is session, so they will likely breed to have more cows start calving then.
In addition, waiting to breed a cow for a period of time after she’s calved is better for her health. Most producers have a 45 to 60 day voluntary wait period. Meaning they will not attempt to breed that animal until at least that many days have passed, even if she comes in heat. This allows for her body to heal after calving and be in its best condition to carry a new pregnancy.
There are many reasons why a producer will choose one type of breeding for their animals over another. These are just a few of the reasons we believe that AI is best for our operation. If you have questions about cattle reproduction or AI in particular, feel free to send us a message or leave a comment below!