by: Clifford Mitchell

In today's industry escalating costs of production force producers to make every dollar count. Utilizing all the tools in the tool box can sometimes make operations run in clockwork fashion. Limited labor resources and high feed costs are just a couple of the factors that hinder efforts to feasibly raise a marketable product.

Genetic improvement or enhancement is a product of artificial insemination (AI) and synchronization programs most producers can readily identify.

“The vast majority of the females we AI, we synchronize them with CIDRs. I like to use the best bulls possible and we try to incorporate a specific bundle of traits with our sire selection: expected progeny differences (EPDs), phenotype, pedigree and color,” says Joe Kreger, Tonkawa, Oklahoma.

“I can use a variety of bulls in my AI program to produce the desired results, but we pay close attention to pedigree and color pattern,” says Steve Carpenter, Tecumseh, Oklahoma.

“With proper sire selection you can create more genetic value. More progress can be made using proven AI sires,” says Stan Lock, Genex Area Sales Manager.

For some AI and heat synchronization programs do not fit the overall management scheme. Others view these practices as a way to streamline production and make best use of the limited resources available. Utilizing these two things in the management system leads to more benefits than just genetic improvement.

“Synchronization helps tighten calving season. Every year we synchronize the same group of cows we're going to get a little more concentrated. Once cattle are concentrated, it makes other management easier to administer. Producers can give more timely vaccinations and apply nutrition when the cow's needs are the highest,” Lock says. “For most, a realistic goal the first year is condensing the calving season down to 45 days. Try to get 60 percent bred on the first day of breeding season and use cleanup bulls to settle 80 percent of the remaining cows by day 30.”

“Synchronization helps with labor management. We can limit the number of days we have to observe heat and watch calving cows. Heats are clustered enough we can breed them AI and then get at least one good cycle with the bull before the end of breeding season. About 80 percent of our calves are born in the first 60 days of the calving season,” Kreger says. “Heifers are usually a big part of the AI program because they respond well to synchronization. Even though we're very fortunate Beefmaster cattle have virtually no calving problems, we still like to check those heifers when they're calving.”

“Utilizing synchronization and AI makes my herd easier to manage, whether we're getting ready to breed, calving or weaning,” Carpenter says. “I can plan around that three week period when I know I'll be calving cows and I can wean those calves together.”

Providing proper nutrition during different stages of production has authored many success stories in the beef business. Synchronization programs allow producers to create specific groups of cattle that can be cared for throughout the cycle.

“Our cows are at the same place in gestation, so I can manage them all the same way,” Carpenter says. “I can feed the whole group the same thing at the same time. If they are scattered out I have to create different management group. Tight calving intervals also allow me to keep the in the correct body condition all the way through. Another added benefit is those cows run in the exact same conditions all the time and I can get a true evaluation.”

“With expensive feed stuffs a tighter calving interval helps me better manage the cow herd. Tighter production windows allow us to better match nutrition with their requirements,” Kreger says. “We have a 90 day calving season in the spring and we calve for 70 days in the fall. Our cows are usually grouped nice and tight on the front end when it comes time to calve.”

“It is easier to adjust nutrition for a larger tight knit group of animals,” Lock says. If you have a 120 day calving season some of those animals are getting over fed which is wasting money. If cows calve in 45 or 60 days you can make better use of the dollars spent feeding them because every cow is at the same stage.”

Weather and moisture patterns have an impact on the cow herd. Unfortunately, these are two things producers cannot control. Positioning the cow herd to breed in a tight window could provide insurance.

“Weather patterns can impact calving if we get a storm at the wrong time, but most producers should be prepared to make alternative plans because they know when cows are going to calve,” Lock says. “This year, herds that synchronized and bred the majority of their cows on the first day of breeding season and turned out a bull, with a BSE and trich test, had much higher conception rates than herds that just turned out bulls because it got hot early. This is something we saw across the board in my area even in the northern climates.” Lock's area includes the Gulf Coast states along with Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The AI program should identify the more fertile female lines in the operation. Putting extra pressure on virgin females to breed in a short time could help make replacement selection easier. Females that AI, year-in and year-out provide value to some operations with limited numbers.

“I get most excited about those heifers that respond to the synchronization, breed and calve early in the season. They show fertility and sexual maturity right off the bat,” Kreger says. “If a heifer AI's and calves early, I am excited about putting her back in the herd and keeping her for the long run.”

“Females that can settle AI first service, are worth quite a bit to me. As a small breeder, it is important to put selection pressure on fertility and identify those females that will AI breed every time,” Carpenter says. “I have cows here that never have had a bull on their back because I have stressed fertility, sexual maturity and the ability to AI.”

“Most producers are going to retain replacements out of females that calve early. With synchronization and AI we can identify those right up front,” Lock says. “By using proven bulls you can know some maternal traits like udder structure that help identify potential replacements.”

Certain classes of cattle also need extra time or nutrition. Rebreeding first calf heifers is an issue for a lot of operations, but synchronization programs allow producers to take advantage of protocols to get these females positioned to breed back with the cow herd.

“We AI heifers to calve 30 days ahead of the cow herd,” Kreger says. “We rarely AI first calf heifers, but they have enough time to get bred so they calve during the first half of the calving season as second calvers.”

Today's industry places a lot of emphasis on measuring and evaluating the calf crop. A tighter calving interval allows for a good comparison most of the time.

“It's easier to evaluate a contemporary group calved over a shorter period of time,” Lock says. “They are all at the same stage and have received an equal level of nutrition.”

“Tighter contemporary groups are no doubt a big help in our day-to-day comparative evaluations, as calves grow and develop. We can see with our own eyes and evaluate the calf crop better,” Kreger says. “When we have the opportunity to better evaluate the calf crop, we can make culling decisions earlier, which helps a lot of things. We are using the best bulls possible in the both AI and embryo program. We have learned we can't just evaluate top genetics through the embryo program. AI allows us to evaluate production from sires within population genetics, which is our total calf crop.”

“A tighter calving interval allows for a more uniform group of calves, especially if we can have a uniform color pattern through selection. It is easier to evaluate calves that are the same age,” Carpenter says. “This allows me to compare sire groups and measure the differences.”

The biggest advantage for the seedstock producer and even commercial cow/calf operators comes at weaning or when it's time to market the calf crop. Known genetics often make cattle from progeny proven sires worth more.

Genetic enhancement may be the reason most producers reach for a straw of semen and implement an AI program. The added benefits that come with this type of system make it part of the overall management program year after year.

“I sell quite a few bulls,” Carpenter says. “Calves that are close to the same age are easier to sell because it's easier for my customers to evaluate the differences.”

“The most visible advantage I see is when it comes time to market those calves. Those AI sired cattle usually sell better and are easier to sell,” Kreger says. “There are plenty of average registered cattle. I want to employ leading genetics and focus on making herd improvement more rapidly with AI. The flip side is there are some extra costs and intense labor requirements at times, but the benefits keep coming year round.”

“Calves born from a successful AI program are 10 days older and gain 2.5 pounds per day, most have more than paid for the cost of synchronization because of extra weight without the advanced genetics figured into that equation,” Lock says. “There are a lot of benefits to synchronization: tighter calving intervals, heavier calves and better replacements. Producers go from getting cows bred to a total reproductive program.”

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