Sometimes we are guilty of overthinking things.  We talk about corrective mating, line breeding, and developing a distinct bloodline, when in reality nothing makes more dollars and cents than getting more female calves from your best cows.  No matter what your breeding or profit goals are, there is no question that you need to get  your cows back in calf for another lactation and have them  produce enough replacement heifers.  These are two top metrics every dairy must aim for.

There used to be a time when you could burn through young cows, but today’s modern dairy operation is dependent on getting the milking cows back in calf and preferably they will produce 3-4 heifers throughout the course of their lifetime.  I say heifers because recent analysis of 2,390,000 lactation records covering 1,490,000 cows found a clear pattern: Cows produce more milk for their daughters than their sons.  The sex of the first calf is particularly important and can influence how much milk production is generated in future lactations as well.  (Read more: Study Of 1.5 Million Cows Shows Daughters Get More Milk Than Sons) In fact the study found that cows that gestated back-to-back daughters produced as much as 1,000 pounds more milk than those that give birth to sons over the first two lactations.

The effect of sons and daughters on mum's milk production, across two lactations.

The effect of sons and daughters on mum’s milk production, across two lactations. S = son, D = daughter, numbers along x-axis indicate order of pregnancy. Credit: Hinde et al, 2014, PLOS ONE.

Think about this.  For example, this would make a bull thought of as a type sire, such as Regancrest Braxton, who has a PTAT of 3.70 and a  milk proof  of 1516 lbs. into a +2016 lbs. for Milk, when used on a cow that might have produced 2 daughters as compared to 2 sons.  That would rank Braxton among the top 200 proven sires for production (or the top 1% of the breed) and yet he has more than twice the type improvement values of those production sires.

So you say, “Sure that all sounds good, but how do you make it happen?”  Well the answer is pretty simple. “You use Sexed Semen.”  Now for those of you who have a negative opinion of sexed semen.  It probably comes is because you used sexed semen or recall the rumors in the early days when the conception was low, the reliability was poor and the price of semen was high.  In 2014 the reality is that all of the negative factors have changed significantly.  Over the past 10 years the technology behind sexed semen has changed drastically.  Juan Moreno, CEO of Sexing Technologies, (Read more: SEXING TECHNOLOGIES: Gender Vendors in a Changing Marketplace) shared the following stats at the recent Canadian Dairy Xpo (Watch the video here):

  • 1984 to 2000
    Purity Under 80%
    Low Fertility (below 50%)
    1000 doses of conventional semen would produce 200 doses of sexed semen.
  • 2002 to 2012
    85% Purity
    about 80% fertility rate of that of conventional.
    1000 doses of conventional semen would produce 400 doses of sexed semen.
  • Current
    93% Purity
    98% fertility rate of that of conventional.
    1000 doses of conventional semen can now produce 1100 doses of sexed semen.

From a breeder prospective, sexed semen has gone from a costly alternative to a probable alternative for selective situations, to a smart business decision.

One of the things driving the cost down as well is that the equipment that sorts the semen has gone from processing 200 sperm cells per hour to over 100X times that rate per hour.

The math is pretty simple.  In order to justify the extra cost of the semen, the added production alone would more than cover the cost.  And that does not even factor in the increased revenues from having more female calves.  For many breeders who are using sexed semen, they have also started breeding the bottom 10% to beef sires (Read more: Why you should get rid of the bottom 10%).  With beef cull calves in such demand, due to the shortage of beef cattle, the price for these calves has never been higher.  In fact for many herds these bottom 10% of seed stock calves have become a significant income source.  Especially when bred to be sexed male beef semen.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no question that sexed semen has come a long way over the past 20 years and particularly in the last five.  Like most new technologies, it takes a period of time to perfect the science behind the cool new product, and help bring the cost of production down.  Today the cost of production of sexed semen is not nearly as high as it once.  As well, there is new data showing that cows that calve with two successive females produce up to 1,000 more lbs of milk in those 1st two lactations.  It’s clear that sexed semen is worth the investment.


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