“She’s pregnant!” Those are very welcome words for breeders to hear at pregnancy check time. The ideal is that the pregnancy occurs after one A.I. service in the time period 70 to 100 days in milk, while the cow is producing high volumes of milk, fat and protein. In a perfect world that single A.I. heifer service should occur between 12 and 14 months of age. Getting to that success depends on many factors, not the least of which is the skill of the inseminator.
Do What you Know or Use a Pro?
It takes a wide range of skills to successfully run a dairy operation at a level that is both sustainable and profitable. Professional A.I. technicians recognize that many breeders rise to the challenge of taking on this most vital aspect of their dairy business. They realize that many breeders want complete control of the reproduction program on their farm. Dr. Hernando Lopez, Global Technical Service Director for Genus ABS acknowledges that control is important and sums up the breeder perspective saying, “They believe that they can inseminate successfully themselves’. Dr. Ray Nebel, Senior Reproductive Specialist for Select Sires, outlines further reasons that breeders give for doing their own artificial insemination. “They want the flexibility of when to breed. They prefer having semen available from several different A.I. organizations in their farm tank and being able to change the mating right up to the last minute”. Of course, both Dr. Lopez and Dr.Nebel are aware that cost is one of the strongest motivating factors in choosing who inseminates the cows.
Times have Changed
Thirty years ago there were many more dairy herds and most of them had less than 50 milking cows. Shorter travel distances and labor costs per cow bred by the technician were much lower than today. In that scenario, with only two or three breedings per week, breeders could not become proficient at inseminating. However, with the current average herd size in the US being 187 milking cows, with many miles between herds and with breeders focused on costs, they often choose D.I.Y. artificial insemination for expedience and cost reasons.
Is D.I.Y Really Cheaper?
The monthly bill for technician supplied A.I. needs to subdivided into semen costs and costs for technician services. It’s easy to quote the professional technician’s bill for arm service but expenses must also be pencilled in for the D.I.Y. tech on the farm and for all the costs leading up to the actual insemination.
Remember there is a labor cost for heat detection, including the checking of cows bred 21 days previously. There are additional time related expenses as well. Time to check computer records or activity monitors. Time to check with all staff members for heats others may have seen. Time to call in for service and time to enter breeding information into the herd records. Furthermore for on-farm staff there are costs associated with social security tax, insurance, workers compensation, sick time and other benefits that owners must provide. These time and employment costs are not usually quickly remembered and easily quoted when we sum up the costs of getting cows and heifers in calf. Add in gloves, rods, training and re-training, semen tank purchase and semen tank maintenance and you are getting closer to the true total cost for A.I. Although, at first glance, D.I.Y. seems cost effective and faster, the real question in every dairy manager’s mind should be, “What is the return on the investment?”
Think about it. In a herd of 200 milking cows, it may take a farm employee up to half their time to monitor animals and carry out other aspects of the herd’s reproduction. Some owners take the next step and assign the farm’s repro staff member to the job of doing the breeding. On the surface it sounds like a cost savings but who covers on days-off? What happens when the farm breeding person is needed elsewhere and he/she does not do all the daily reproduction duties including checking for heats? Only seeing 70% of the heats can soon become a major negative factor for the farm’s bottom line. Missed heats result in more days open, lower daily herd average milk production, more non-productive days in the dry pens and an age at first calving of 26 instead of 22-24 months. Add to this the fact that the on-farm inseminator must be trained and monitored and will need to spend time on skills upgrading and, very quickly, the savings from do-it-yourself insemination are rapidly disappearing.
A.I. Results: Are You Getting Professional or Passable?
Of course, if your pregnancy rate is 23+% and you are meeting or exceeding all your established targets, you can stop reading now. However, if your results are not at that level, working with a professional technician could be a discerning business decision for you to consider.
Times have changed from when the only service offered by the technician was insemination. Today organizations providing A.I. tech services wish to provide their customers with a full range of services. Both Lopez and Nebel emphasize that the professional technician becomes part of the on-farm production team, where the goal is to achieve a high pregnancy rate as part of a complete reproduction program.
Dr. Nebel notes that “Herds have gotten bigger, days on the farm have become more demanding, milk per cow has increased and more cows are housed in confinement than they were twenty years ago. These are all challenges when it comes to getting cattle pregnant.” Dr. Lopez also outlines how change is affecting dairy breeding. “Today there is more focus on cow welfare, cow comfort, the successful integration of reproductive technologies like synchronization and heat detection aids and the handling and compliance for large groups of cows. Today successful breeding goes beyond the proper insemination technique. It requires all aspects of dairy management to be correctly working and their needs to be great teamwork.” When breeders work with profession A.I. companies they have access to complete reproduction services including: full cow side services including, walk, chalk, synchronization and insemination’ data entry into herd management software including report generation; management of automated activity and heat detection systems and reproductive consultation.
With all of this potential information and support, one wonders why more breeders not asking for competitive bids from companies that provided genetic and reproductive services to dairy farms.
When it comes to pregnancy rate, whether you are your own professional or hire a professional, you can’t afford less than professional results.
Jack of All Trades or Master of Pregnancy?
Professional technicians employed by A.I. companies breed between 5,000 and 20,000 animals per year. They are continually being monitored for their performance. As new techniques become available they receive training. Their only focus is on getting animals pregnant. Their livelihood depends of delivering top notch service. Dr. Lopez provides this very sound advice: “Most operations can economically benefit from outsourcing breeding or a total reproductive service to a professional technician not only because of the superior consistent results but also due to all the technical support and resources producers have access to through the professional breeding services”.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
Every aspect of dairy farming needs to be penciled out as to cost and return on investment. Every breeder has an area of dairy farming that they like best and do to a professional level. In the end, A.I. breeding is all about fewer breedings, less semen used, more pregnancies, fewer reproductive culls and the best use of time and services. There is too much at stake to be a jack of all insemination trades and master of none.
Breeders need to be totally objective about every step from heat detection to confirmed conception. If you agree that insemination is all about the results, then ask yourself two questions, “How important is an excellent A.I. program?” and “Who performs artificial insemination best?”