Back patches improve visual heat detection

bull mounting a cow

When you’ve got a lot of females to inseminate do you use estrus synchronization or visual detection with the new heat patches?

It doesn’t have to be either/or, says Charles Munro, the owner-operator of All-Around Livestock Sales and Services of Standard, Alta. Some of his clients may want to go with synchronized fixed-time AI for heifers and 21-day visual heat detection for cows to give themselves some breathing room during the first part of calving. That’s a viable option now with the new heat patches.

Munro gave the self-sticking Estrotect heat detection patch a good test in Saskatchewan last summer when he AI’ed 800 cows at the One Earth Farms’ Ringstead Ranch near Lanigan.

In this instance he and a helper arrived a day early to place the patches but Munro says producers can look after this step themselves if they prefer. One patch is placed on the spine between the pins and the hook bones.

Mounting activity rubs off the grey coating on the patch revealing a fluorescent colour beneath. The trick is to wait until at least half the patch is pretty much solid fluorescent before pulling the cow. Pull one with only a few scratches of colour showing through and you will be too early.

cattle breeding patches
Estrotech patches are currently available from AI companies listed at www.

In his experience, based on breeding 2,000 cows and heifers last summer alone, Estrotect patches are reliable. They stick well and the coating is durable enough to withstand the elements or being rubbed off by just a few mounts.

He and his right-hand man, either AJ Hop or Art Huston, start riding the pasture shortly after sun-up rounding up cows with brightly coloured patches. As soon as a group is gathered in the corral, they put them through the AI chute. This routine continues until 11 a.m when they take a break, then start up again from 4 p.m. until the day’s work is done.

Two men on horseback
"A big advantage of AI is better genetics than what the average ranch can afford to pay for a bull – and I'm easier to get along with." – Charles Munro (r) photo: Debbie Furber

Worn patches are removed when the cow is bred and, at the producer’s discretion, replaced with one of another colour before it is released. The second patch helps identify cows that come back into heat either for their own records or early culling. Bred cows are released in groups to an adjoining pasture with the cleanup bulls.

When a calf doesn’t follow its dam into the corral the cow is sprayed on both sides with paint to mark it as bred and sent back to the pre-breeding pasture.

It’s a fairly rigorous routine, but with the heat patches it takes far less time than observing the cows and is more reliable.

Munro consults with his clients ahead of time to design the type of program for their situation, whether it’s a purebred or commercial herd, the number of animals, and available facilities. He then negotiates a fee for service based on what the producer wants him to look after.

He also likes to visit the farm ahead of time to see the facilities and discuss what’s required. He supplies the manpower, horses, and a trailer with all the AI supplies. As a Genex rep, he can also supply the semen, or the clients can make their own arrangements for semen.

Munro’s expertise in AI was built up over five years as an AI technician with Eastern Breeders and operating a dairy near Ottawa. He figures he’s inseminated at least 30,000 cows during that time.

“I see AI as helping make cow herds better, faster, says Munro. “We haven’t seen the pounds of gain changing year over year in beef cattle, not like dairy has been able to do (with milk) because of AI.

“A big advantage of AI is better genetics than what the average ranch could afford to pay for a bull — and I’m easier to get along with!”

Semen straws range from $25 to $40, even less with volume discounts. Adding the cost of a technician and other supplies, it will still be competitive with buying a $5,000 bull, using him for three or 3-1/2 seasons and getting $1,800 when you ship him. Right there, you’re looking at $1,000 a year. Then there will be $800 minimum in feed costs, and veterinary expenses for breeding soundness exams, not to mention extra facility maintenance, bumping it up to around $80 per cow.

The conception rate with AI is generally 50 to 60 per cent, sometimes 70 per cent and can be 85 or 90 per cent if all the stars line up, he says. At the end of the day, you’ll have a more consistent calf crop because you can use the same AI bull on several hundred animals.

A synchronization program will help get more cows calving in a one-week period early in the breeding season translating into heavier calves at weaning.

Sexed semen is the latest advancement in AI technology. It’s already available, but conception rates are still slightly below that for unsexed semen, Munro says.

“Not every bull has semen that sorts easily. It’s like the start of AI. There were bulls that didn’t freeze well — the semen wasn’t viable after freezing. It took time to find bulls that would freeze well. If they find great sorting bulls, just think what it could do for commercial herds.”

Munro established All-Around Livestock Sales and Service in 2006 to provide contract pen checking and pasture riding services for feedlots and ranches in addition to breaking, training, and trading working horses.

A big part of his business is pen checking and health services for feedlots in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Crews are assembled as needed for each job and work under his supervision, but because the feedlot work tapers off from spring through summer, adding AI services two years ago fills the gap to help retain year-round employees.

For more information contact Munro at 403-701-1548.

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