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MU Cattle Protocols Help Calving Ease, Add Quality

March 1, 2016

Beef calves born early in the calving season are worth more. Ranch records show those economics. Research from the University of Missouri Thompson Farm shows how to get more calves born early in the season.

Dave Patterson, MU Extension beef specialist, told that story to Taney County cattlemen, Feb. 25.

When Patterson asked how many of them use AI (artificial insemination) to breed their cows, many hands went up.

Next, he asked how many use fixed-time AI. Only a third of those hands went back up.

Fixed-time AI, or FTAI, allows breeding of all cows in a herd on one day. The very idea causes many herd owners to fear all calves will be born on one night. That’s more than anyone wants.

However, cows aren’t alike: Some calve early while some calve late. Research from the MU herd at Spickard shows calving peaks at the “normal” 283 days of gestation.

Patterson said that the calving spread works in favor of the owner. With FTAI, in a 100-cow herd, about 12 calves will be born on peak days. There’s another benefit for herd owners. With AI, cows can be bred with calving-ease genetics.

It’s not all genetics, however. Management helps. Prebreeding exams cull heifers that might need calving assistance or even C-sections at birth.

Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer sales show that heifers with better genetics from proven AI sires sell for more dollars.

Last year, SMS sales showed that the advanced AI-bred Tier Two heifers averaged $422 more per head over bull-bred heifers. As buyers learn the value of better heifers they come back to bid more.

Stacked genetics add value as well. AI adds traits such as carcass quality and rib-eye area for steermates sent to feedlots. FTAI adds value to feeder calves that are uniform in age and size.

Patterson told how 19 years of science went into refining protocols for fixed-time AI. The protocols, or recipes, are updated every year. “Use the 2016 sheet,” Patterson said.

All the details are printed on two sides of a yellow card from MU Extension livestock specialists. Also, AI companies print the AI protocols in their sire catalogs.

Cows and heifers need different protocols. Traditionally, heifers cause more problems; however, a new 14-day protocol works best for most heifers.

Patterson stressed that breeders must use protocols exactly. The steps are timed down to the hour. That fits the breeding cycle of most females in the herd.

“When followed, the protocols work,” Patterson said. Over the years, the MU scientists tried various methods so that farmers don’t need to experiment.

Fixed-time AI makes for uniform calf crops as most calves are born in a 21-day period. Show-Me-Select buyers soon learn they like short calving seasons. That beats getting up on winter nights in a 120-day season.

Producers can enroll in the Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer Program with their area MU Extension livestock specialist. It’s a yearlong program that offers SMS sales at the end.

Producers can learn to inseminate their cows. But Patterson warns beginners to not try to breed all cows in one day by themselves.

In recent breeding research in large herds, Patterson and two MU graduate students were breeding 100 heifers per hour. They’ve practiced.

Newcomers should ask their local AI provider to help when getting started.

Details count in timed breeding. However, premium prices for heifers and their steermates make AI worthwhile. Premiums add value in a time of dropping beef prices.

Source: Duane Dailey, University of Missouri