Advantages of AI go beyond genetics

Greg McKay, managing director of South Island-based Xcell Breeding and Veterinary Services, has seen AI use in beef cattle increase 10-fold over the past 20 years, to a point where it is now a 50/50 mix of commercial and stud farmers.
Tuesday, 23 May 2017

“Once farmers start, they can’t stop, because they see the quality of their cattle increasing. You see commercial farmers become excited about genetics, so when they go to studs, these commercial guys are not looking at bottom end – they are looking at the top end.”

Benefits, aside from genetic gain

Mr McKay says people think the use of AI is all about genetics, but there are so many other benefits. Specifically:

  • Synchronised mating – control over when you want to start calving.
  • Feed budgeting and being able to plan around feed.
  • Calves are born over 7-10 days, resulting in a more uniform line of livestock to finish.
  • Plenty of recovery time for cows, before next calving.

Conception rates

A realistic budget is 50%, Mr McKay says.

“But the average is high 50s to mid 60s. There are farmers getting 70-75%, but they have been doing it for many years.”

Pre-planning is critical and there are practicalities that make a big difference to success rates.

  1. Before the programme starts, close up a few paddocks near the yards, so you have handy areas with feed to hold cows and heifers. 
  2. Select cows with proven calving history, the appropriate number of days’ post calving and of good body condition score. Select heifers up to weight.  
  3. Pay particular attention to your animal health plan and nutrition.
  4. On AI day, have plenty of people on hand.
  5. Bull decision: maternal or terminal? “I encourage commercial guys to use proven bulls, so high reliability factor and less risk – as opposed to exciting new young unproven bulls that studs might use.”
  6. Calculate how many back up bulls you need; Xcell recommends 1:10 bull power. 

Is there any downside?

Greg says some people can potentially get a poor result – less than 50%. “But there is usually a reason which can be difficult to pinpoint, such as animal health, BVD exposure, semen, calving date coinciding with a storm, etc.”