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Author thinks AI and sexed semen breeding technologies cost a lot and bring little reward.

R. P. 'Doc' Cooke, Blogger

May 18, 2020

6 Min Read
Removing straws from semen tank
Getting a return on the investment is always the question about technologies.iStock-GettyImages

I say the difference between a good cow and a super cow is very little, although this statement lacks accuracy since the truth is most “super-cow guys” spend and waste lots of time and money on their prizes.

These prize girls generally are short-lived, too. I posted (autopsied) a rotten 4-year-old a week or so back that had been a show rig. She was dead from a liver malady instigated by lots of feed and the inability to adapt to low-quality forage. She had a 4-month-old calf and was open.

Increases in technology continues to amaze me and even though I continue to resist most change I have certainly adopted the use of polybraid wire, step-in portable electric fence posts, low impedance fence energizers and flip-type cell phones. I also attempt to create profits for gifted people who help me with their computer and internet skills. I continue to have no use for vehicles with power windows, power locks, bells and buzzers. I don’t even like riding lawn mowers but I’m glad other people like them.

“Keep it simple stupid” is my go phrase. There are few break-downs when the system is well planned, simple and has flexibility built in. Diversity from simplicity yields stability. The Natural Model principles have always been the goads for agriculturalists who failed to learn and follow the rules. In chapter 9 of the book of Acts the Lord certainly got St. Paul’s attention. Although we don’t get that kind of blinding awakenings, we can quickly see our mistakes if we pay attention, keep a few records and monitor our cattle and landscape on a regular basis. The same is true when we do our job correctly.

Artificial Insemination (AI) came on board before I did. It has led to some good understanding and knowledge concerning reproduction. It put a lot of bull producers out of business, especially dairy. I doubt that AI has added real profitability to producers. Ditto the same for sexed semen. Like most technology, all the fluff has come at a cost that the cattle market has been unwilling and unable to pay. It reminds me of upright silos, pretty trucks, tractors and corn silage. The beef producers that put a red line through all this stuff remains profitable and stays healthy.

The most profitable cattlemen I’ve worked for almost never used AI. They also did not buy many bulls and never studied EPDs. They normally had cattle that performed on location and they normally sold yearlings that had been grazed through the first half of the growing season. Their cattle were likely not deemed the best but they sold close to the top of the market. They were mostly profitable. Low-cost production was the kingpin.

Most work indicates that live calves born in the first 20 days of the calving season are the most profitable. I know folks that routinely run 85% calved out in three weeks. Most of them cheat a little by flushing the cows for three weeks in front of and behind bull introduction a total of six weeks.

Running all the cattle in a single herd is a real profitable decision and if you need to add a little supplement to make it work I recommend you should add supplement. The longer a calf can run with its mother, the better as long as the cow can work and gain condition in front of the bull arrival. Cows on the gain settle.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of negatives I have with AI programs. You can multiply them with sexed semen deals that I’ve been around.

  • Increased cost per pregnancy and live calf

  • Labor and cattle handling (more times equals lots more cost)

  • Cattle injuries due to handling, also fewer “heats”

  • Semen cost and storage cost

  • Increase in open cows

  • Any sizable mistake in thawing or insemination results in zero conception

  • Decrease in early breeding season conception numbers

  • Weather-related issues. When the barometer is falling so is hormonal activity.

  • Emphasis on EPDs. Remember milk, weaning weights, growth, rib eye area and several more EPDs are maternal killers.

I will concede that it is possible to end up with wrecks and high cost of pregnancies without AI or sexed semen. If you’re a single-sire outfit and not paying attention you can end up with zero pregnancies. With the use of a bunch of young bulls this shouldn’t be an issue. Remember that reliance on the real young or the real old is or can be a real problem. Every time I’ve been hired to ejaculate and evaluate a bull with multiple cows cycling, I was wasting my time and the producer’s money. One of the bulls was a brahman-influence bull that was a steer. Scrotal circumference is very important.

I once had an isolated client with four cows. Rather than AI he got a cattle jockey to drop him a 750-pound bull with some age. He left the bull in for four or five months starting in mid-July. He paid the cattle trader $50 and the trader got the weight gain on the bull. It made both parties a little money. Both of them said that it beat having a job.

On a regular basis I work for or talk to an intelligent beef producer who is or has just finished a synchronization program and AI with or without sexed semen. I get called out to sleeve for pregnancy 60 days after insemination. With clean-up bulls, 70% of the pregnancies are normally 30-45 days. When we figure the cost of the 60-day AI pregnancies everybody often gets sick. I once had a cowman tell me he could have done better lying on the couch. He was correct. But the truth is that they often do it again in four to five years.

My biggest problem with sexed semen is that it adds more cost to an AI program that is already losing money. Conception rates are better than a few years back, especially with high-fertility heifers. But there is only about 30% as many spermatozoa per straw and 10-20% of the offspring are still the wrong sex. Remember that I’m not anti-technology, but truth is I can’t afford the majority of the offerings.

The commodity market wants healthy, hard cattle (especially yearlings) that fit the board. Their mammas loved them and their pappy was gifted with the equipment and hormones and ability to get the pregnancy job done.

Young bulls don’t tend to carry venereal diseases like trich and vibrio around for long periods. Closed herds have few such problems. We sell cattle by the pound and figure all the cost. We figure profits by the acre.

Chances are I’ve said more than enough and most of y’all caught my drift. By the way, I did not use any names because every producer I interviewed asked (actually told) me not to make full disclosure. Praise the Lord for good clean-up bulls.

The opinions of this author are not necessarily those of Farm Progress or Beef Producer.

You can read the response to this blog from the members of the Beef Reproduction Task Force here.

About the Author(s)

R. P. 'Doc' Cooke


R. P. "Doc" Cooke, DVM, is a mostly retired veterinarian from Sparta, Tennessee. Doc has been in the cattle business since the late 1970s and figures he's driven 800,000 miles, mostly at night, while practicing food animal medicine and surgery in five counties in the Upper Cumberland area of middle Tennessee. He says all those miles schooled him well in "man-made mistakes" and that his age and experiences have allowed him to be mentored by the area’s most fruitful and unfruitful "old timers." Doc believes these relationships provided him unfair advantages in thought and the opportunity to steal others’ ideas and tweak them to fit his operations. Today most of his veterinary work is telephone consultation with graziers in five or six states. He also writes and hosts ranching schools. He is a big believer in having fun while ranching but is serious about business and other producers’ questions. Doc’s operation, 499 Cattle Company, now has an annual stocking rate of about 500 pounds beef per acre of pasture and he grazes 12 months each year with no hay or farm equipment and less than two pounds of daily supplement. You can reach him by cell phone at (931) 256-0928 or at [email protected].

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