While artificial breeding is ubiquitous in the dairy industry, Manawatu farmer Shelley Dew-Hopkins believes the technology has a role to play in commercial beef breeding herds.
Shelley and her husband Ian farm a 692ha hill country property at Rangiwhaia. This year they are artificially inseminating (AI) all of their 15-month-old Angus heifers and Shelley believes AI is a great tool to speed-up genetic progress. She says the process is not as onerous or expensive as people may think.
While the couple come from a dairy farming background – so are familiar with the benefits and mechanics of artificial insemination – they have, through Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics, seen it used successfully in other commercial beef operations.
For the Dew-Hopkins, AI will speed up genetic gain in their Angus breeding cow herd as they are able to select sires from around the world with figures that best-fit their breeding objectives.
They will also retain some of the bull calves for use in their herd.
Since taking over their farm in 2012, the couple has been building up their Angus breeding cow herd by buying capital stock (including cows from the Floridale stud dispersal) and retaining replacements.
Now with a solid genetic base, they are using semen from an American bull in their first-calvers.
Ideally, they would like to be breeding calves that give them options. When the season allows they will finish their calves within their own operation and, with an eye to supplying Silver Fern Farm’s Reserve Beef programme (via Beef EQ), they are selecting genetics that will ensure their beef cattle have the genetic potential to make the grade.
Shelley says the AI process is relatively simple. They target their heifers so they are not dealing with cows with calves at foot, and these young cattle are only handled three times over the 10-day AI period.
The couple has good facilities and an area of flat that allows them to keep their 50 heifers close-by.
Cost-wise, Shelley estimates it will cost $100/heifer and they are budgeting on a 60% conception rate. Follow-up Angus bulls will take care of the balance. All-up it will cost $5000 to inseminate 50 heifers and suitable bull calves will be retained and used within their herds.
“It’s more cost-effective than buying an R2 bull and relatively easy to do.”
Ian and Shelley use their local vet to carry-out the AI programme and he carries out several AI programmes in commercial beef herds in the Taihape area.
Running 2700 mixed-age ewes and 650 hoggets alongside their breeding cows, Shelley describes their business as an average hill country sheep and beef farm, although do they have all their animals EID tagged.
With 130ha of flats, they are able to mate and calve all their cows on easy terrain. This allows them to tag and identify calves at birth and track their progress as they seek to determine the genetics that work best in their environment.
Shelley says they have no intention of operating a stud, rather they are using the tools and resources available to them to get the best out of their commercial cows.
She urges commercial beef breeders to consider incorporating AI into their breeding programme as an easy and cost-effective way of fast tracking genetic progress.