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Improve your herd’s breeding efficiencies

From a cost-per-calf-born perspective there are many ways progressive producers have at their disposal to improve breeding efficiencies. Sharing bulls with like-minded producers and/or utilizing synchronization programs with artificial insemination are two ways to accomplish this.

Our dairy producers are increasingly using sexed semen, which may become more available in the beef industry down the road. Dairymen now have way more heifers available as replacements and this allows them to consider breeding their older cows (which generally have poorer conception rates) to beef bulls, which should dramatically increase the sales value of those calves.

Many purebred beef producers have semen for sale, which dairymen could access. They AI (artificially inseminate) anyway and this creates a co-operative spirit between our dairy and beef sectors which may have been lacking in the past. This should improve beef marketed if a large number of dairy cows were bred to beef bulls. It certainly could have a huge benefit in the Jersey breed where most Jersey bull calves essentially have no market value.

We can both gain by each other’s strengths. I have always said dairymen breed all year round so their artificial insemination skills are second to none plus dairy cows have a tendency on average to strain more making breeding that much more difficult. There is not a purebred beef breeder out there who would not have semen to sell to dairymen.

Dairy semen especially on younger sires is fairly inexpensive so I am sure they have been scared off by the high price of beef semen in ads. This is true but many purebred beef producers have semen in storage on bulls they are no longer promoting or utilizing the genetics of which for non-registerable animals would be great for crossbreeding with dairy cows. Dairy cattle have very little issues calving so these crossbreds would be very growthy and salable calves. To think sexed semen is what is creating the possibility of this crossbreeding. In the past dairymen needed to keep all the replacements they could but with sexed semen there is now an abundance of good replacement heifers available for dairymen.

The crossbred offspring are often sought after for recipients in an embryo program because of their great milking ability. One must remember these half-bloods can still come with the dairy metabolic diseases such as milk fever, ketosis and mastitis so may need to be managed a bit differently or they can be put in the feedlot where more muscling and growth should return profit to the owner.

The varied calving seasons between producers or on the same large operations have allowed exceptional bulls to have two or more breeding seasons. It is still the most profitable to have a confined breeding season. Numerous articles have been written on this but a 63-day, three cycle breeding program is probably ideal and most top producers run just over two cycles with their breeding heifers. Culled open heifers still return top dollar as feedlot animals and you are selecting for fertility when just breeding heifers for about two cycles. By breeding heifers one cycle early you allow them more time after their first calf to get ready for rebreeding and can watch them a little closer at calving season. There is no doubt mothering, milking and calving issues can be slightly higher with heifers so better to give them a bit more attention.

If a large operation has a spring and fall calving program no additional bulls are needed. As long as bulls have one to two months between breeding seasons to gain back some lost weight and heal any nagging injuries especially penile ulcers and contusions.

You will find two breeding seasons may be more beneficial to the longevity of bulls as often bulls in the off season are put in small pens and they get overfat, develop long hooves and essentially get out of shape. This extra fat in the scrotum can hinder their fertility and bulls with nothing to do fight more.

Two producers with different breeding seasons but several things in common such as management skills, herd health programs and breed preferences could share breeding bulls. This should allow them to buy better-quality bulls as purchase price is split between them. Both herds should be on the same type of health program as far as parasite control, preventive shots, and biosecurity measures. It must be clear as to who is doing what and who keeps the bull in the off-season.

Often with high-value bulls semen is collected even if just for on-farm use. It acts as an insurance program and if both owners do breed at one time one maintains walking rights and the other AIs thus really utilizing a valuable productive bull.

With so many very effective options available for synchronization programs these days this also gets lots of cows bred quickly, reduces the length of the calving season and maximizes genetic gain while essentially cutting down breeding cost. With today’s good handling systems it is not much effort to run cows through when needed. Obviously this is much easier with heifers where calves are not involved but synchronization problems do greatly reduce the bull power necessary to get the cows bred plus you can utilize the services of skilled AI technicians who can breed a large number of cows in a short period of time.

Your goal by any method should be to confine the breeding season and use the best genetics you can afford (by AI or purchasing high-quality purebred bulls) and with the above methods there will be some cost savings along the way. If you are interested in synchronization programs ask your veterinarian about the method they have had the most success with or if sharing bulls make sure all aspects of the partnership including health parameters are looked after.

If sharing bulls, I recommend semen testing before each breeding season. If problems developed during the previous breeding season you want to find that out. Select your herd bulls wisely whether through natural breeding or AI With bulls being half the genetics in your herd it behooves you to spend time making the best possible breeding choices for your operation. Here’s to a very fertile breeding season.

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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