AI vs Natural Service

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Ky hills

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Building on some recent posts of my own as well as those of others, I think a lot of the issues and criticisms that we have of breeds is directly linked to the selective direction that breeders take their respective breeds.
The trends have started well before AI, with the belt buckle size cattle of the 50’s. They had changed dramatically from the enormous sizes reported for Herefords in England many years before.
Then in the 70’s-80’s we had the 6ft tall cattle across almost every breed of cattle. Then in the 90’s and following we had the needed trend of moderation.

My view of AI is that it is a very useful tool to bring in outcross genetics when needed. It certainly has its place in situations where running bulls is not desirable, such as small acreage beef herds and in dairies where bulls can be dangerous to work around.
It seems to me we have a perfect storm of disaster with the current trends and of heavy reliance on EPD’s, and also taking the word of breeders hundreds or more miles away with likely much different management, weather, and forages, or the AI reps advice which is likely just parroting the aforementioned sales pitch.

I’ve used AI heavily at times, and had varying degrees of conception rates and calf results. Not all AI sires are superior to natural ones. A lot of people have bought into the hype that someone else has much better cattle, just cause they have a well known prefix.
I’ve noticed when going to look for bulls, or females for that matter, it’s pretty common for the sales pitch to start out he’s sired by so and so so he’s a good one. As a whole I think we are loosing our ability to visually assess cattle and relying on the hype of popular genetics and numbers to do it for us to our own detriment.
AI can yield decent results on conception and can get some good calves. I’ve always said that if you can do the work yourself on observed heats the success rates should be much better. I gave up on it after having to go to the timed methods. At best we then got 50% where previously when I had a local tech that could come for observed heats instead of just once to breed them all.
Also noticed a difference in conception rates of different sires, one was 0 of 10, another was 2 of 10, and on the same times as the 20% another sire had 60%.
I had to maintain just as many bulls, so it just did not make financial sense to continue AI.
With natural service there are all the problems with bulls themselves, but without the added expense of another entity making money off of our cattle.
 

Dsth

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thanks for sharing your thought on AI and Bull breeding. When I went through the AI training 40 years ago, the instructor said that knowing the breeding date and calving date will by itself pay for the cost of AIing. I was in the dairy business at the time and I would have to agree with that statement. maybe not so important with beef now that I no longer dairy farm. I find it somewhat amusing when I hear or read about how much better bull breeding conception rates are compared to AI breeding. even though that may be true for some, when I ask that same person about cull rates, their answer is usually higher than someone that AIs. I believe that relates back to knowing breeding dates and which cows are cycling during the breeding season. AI breeding that uses natural heat detection lets the manager know who is cycling and treatments for noncycling cows can result in higher pregnancy rates. I am not saying that AI is for everyone but I think it could be a big benefit for many people that do not currently use the technology that is available out there.
 

Son of Butch

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Not all AI sires are superior to natural ones. A lot of people have bought into the hype that...... he’s sired by so and so, so he’s a good one.
AI can yield decent results on conception and can get some good calves.
4 young sires, each 3/4 genetic brothers (same Sire x same MGS)
My 5k bull
Your 10K bull
A.I. 50k bull
Hot new A.I. bull 500k

Obviously your 10k bull will be twice as good as my 5k bull.
the 50k unproven A.I. sire will be 10 times better than my 5k bull.
and the calves from the 500k sire will be 100 times better and probably wean themselves at 100 days weighing 500 lbs :)

The advantage in A.I. is to use proven sires.... with traits proven to Match your desired result.
 

BFE

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I agree with Butch. let someone else be the Guinea Pig. Go with the older proven sires for more predictable results if using AI.

I currently run bulls, have played with AI in the past. My latest bull is from a 40 year proven herd. Anything can happen, but I worry less about problems with him. He has many generations of selection based on my type of grass, climate, and management behind him. I didn't just buy a bull, I bought a program. We'll see in a few years if things turn out as I hope.
 

jscunn

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Butch,
You forgot the 500lb bull calves would already passed a BSE and be presold for $6000... :)

Your last sentence is exactly what we should all do..

I try and use bulls that I have seen with my own (non-expert) eyes, or have seen at least a few calves in environments/Management situations close to my own.. There are AI bulls out there that will improve Trait A over my herd bull (or yours).. Two questions must be asked:

1. Is this the bull to improve Trait A..
and mostly importantly
2. What am I sacrificing to improve Trait A and how much will it affect me down the road 2 or 3 generations.

I am moving towards more terminal sires (More IMF, more REA) because literally all of the males will be steers sold as freezer beef, some of the heifers too. Now how much of that can I use without wanting to puke when I see the heifers I retain, how much will if affect fertility (better be zero) or other things.. Dip your toe in the water and dont be afraid to yank it out if it gets too cold.
 
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Ky hills

Ky hills

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I agree that using older proven bulls is more reliable than younger ones, but that is not how the registered marketing across all the breeds is or has worked.
It is my hope that enough breeders are doing the things mentioned here to maintain the breed integrity of what ever breed in spite of all of the trends.
I’ve been associated with 3 different breeds and kind of eyed another. They are all different, yet somehow the same as far as marketing goes.
Years ago with Charolais it was this bull is great he’s won in Houston, or Denver, and he’s gonna sire the kind that will do it for you too. Then next year it starts over with a new one.
Herefords seem to currently be that way specifically the polled ones.
Angus are a bit different in that the numbers are so large that the show segment is almost a separate deal.
With their numbers of cattle and breeders there are several bulls of the month at a time, seems to go by a rotation of who’s who breeders.
I thought at first that Angus were geared more towards promoting the use of older proven bulls, but soon found that not to be the case.
Hence my criticism of AI companies and the in crowd of prefix breeders. Each year they crank out several more bulls that are high dollar sellers going to other big names and or semen companies. Not all of those every year are going to be superior to other bulls, yet most other registered breeders want to sample several of them. Thus making most herds compromised of similar cattle, be it good, bad, or indifferent.

@Son of Butch I understand your statement and it’s logical, but I would say there is a caveat. Who is to say that a $10,000 bull is better than a $5000. They could be near identical and if one is from a well known prefix, their customers are going to pay more than they would for a similar quality from a lesser known outfit.
The $50,000 and $500,000 bulls are also subjective too. They are likely more appealing than the other two, but probably not to those extents. It’s marketing and after their purchase they will be marketed as such. I believe CB would be quoting P.T. Barnum about that.
 

kentuckyguy

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I think a lot of AI being successful relies on not using young new bulls that haven’t proven themselves.
Give them 4 or 5 years and you have a much better idea of their ability to pass down good or bad traits.

I listen to a podcast called Angus Underground quite a bit. I really agree with their statement “If you are gonna use a young unproven bull why not use one of your own?”

If your herd is going in the right direction using sons of your best cows should produce good cattle.

I’ve began doing this some and have found the magic happens when you breed a bull out of one of your best cows to some of your other really good cows.

This also allows you to clean up after AI then market your bull.
 

Travlr

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The proof of a good bull versus a poor bull, a cheap bull versus and expensive bull, is the difference in costs compared to profits.

With AI that means the cost of semen, synchronizing animals, handling, failure to breed, etc.

With a live animal we have the cost to acquire whether purchased or raised, the costs to maintain, and the use we get.

There are also hidden costs with each, until the results are seen in the money we get from selling. With AI or a live animal we don't really know what to expect until the calves are weaned and sold, or put into the herd as replacements and we see results from that.

I've had some great results from AI. But the thing is... I've had great results from other strategies too. I've used purchased bulls and I've used bulls I've raised. Purebred bulls... and crossbred bulls.

And at the point of sale the only thing that has affected my return was whether the calves/replacements heifers I was selling looked consistent. The price of the semen, the price of the bull, the EPDs, and the hype mattered very little compared to how the animals being sold looked at the time and how they were presented for sale.

In my opinion the best bull I had was crossbred, because he produced great calves consistently. The second best was a purebred that produced great calves consistently. The crossbred bull I raised, the purebred I bought... cheap. The reason I used them was because I thought they would compliment my cows and produce consistent calves. None of the AI bulls I used produced calves that were any better... but the calves were also just as good.

I believe choosing a bull to compliment the type of cow you prefer is an art, and has more to do with conformation than any other factor. Having a consistent body type and an attractive history as a calf is all I need to choose a good bull.

And all my animals, steers or bred heifers, have consistently sold at the top of the market. The results speak for themselves.
 
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wbvs58

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Butch,
You forgot the 500lb bull calves would already passed a BSE and be presold for $6000... :)

Your last sentence is exactly what we should all do..

I try and use bulls that I have seen with my own (non-expert) eyes, or have seen at least a few calves in environments/Management situations close to my own.. There are AI bulls out there that will improve Trait A over my herd bull (or yours).. Two questions must be asked:

1. Is this the bull to improve Trait A..
and mostly importantly
2. What am I sacrificing to improve Trait A and how much will it affect me down the road 2 or 3 generations.

I am moving towards more terminal sires (More IMF, more REA) because literally all of the males will be steers sold as freezer beef, some of the heifers too. Now how much of that can I use without wanting to puke when I see the heifers I retain, how much will if affect fertility (better be zero) or other things.. Dip your toe in the water and dont be afraid to yank it out if it gets too cold.
I like that, "dip your toe in the water and don't be afraid to yank it out if it gets too cold". I must admit I am a bit of a "risk taker" with many things but I think I have developed the skill to assess the risk I take and assess if it works out.
In my small herd, AI allows me to spread the risk with different sires rather than outlaying a lot of money to buy one bull only to find down the track he does not produce what I am after.

Ken
 

Katpau

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Most AI bulls go from the hot new stud to forgotten has-been before their daughters raise their second calf. That is my biggest problem with AI bulls nowadays. I like a well proven AI bull. One with enough offspring to have data reported from multiple parties and not just the partners with a financial interest. Most AI bulls never seem to get that chance. I think 90% of the bulls I see listed in catalogs never sire more than a handful of calves, and disappear from the catalog within a year or maybe two. Only a handful of them are ever used heavily.

When I see a bull I'm interested in, I like to wait until he has a couple years of production records from his daughters. With most I find I'm no longer interested after seeing his offspring and the changes in his EPD's that are the result of actual data reported. The ones that I still want to use have often already been pulled from the line-up. They are only 5 or 6 years old, but you can't even find semen on them anymore and the studs have dropped them in favor of new unproven stars. A few may still have semen available, but it is priced so high I can't begin to rationalize using it in a commercial herd. It seems rare to see a bull over 6 years of age listed in many semen catalogs. That makes it more difficult to use a proven AI bull.
 

kenny thomas

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You reminded me of a couple Charolais heifers I bought at the Virginia Beef Expo in 1990. Gave pretty high for one heifer because she was bred to a new bull that was going to be the next great thing. 20/20 I think was part of the name.
By the time her calf was weaned the next year his numbers were so bad I just sold the calf as a feeder.
 
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Ky hills

Ky hills

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You reminded me of a couple Charolais heifers I bought at the Virginia Beef Expo in 1990. Gave pretty high for one heifer because she was bred to a new bull that was going to be the next great thing. 20/20 I think was part of the name.
By the time her calf was weaned the next year his numbers were so bad I just sold the calf as a feeder.
The early late 80’’s through mid 90’s was when I was in the registered Charolais business. I remember that 20/20 bull. He was marketed as a calving ease bull, through ABS. I had some heifers bred to him. They averaged 100 lbs at birth, I think we pulled one that weighed more. Those calves didn’t grow out to impress me at all.
One AI Charolais bull that really liked was Intimidator, he sired a real nice crop of bull calves that did well for my commercial customers. I would love to have a bull out of him today for my commercial cows.
I got burned on a bull that was supposed to be calving ease, and wasn’t. I got burnt out on Charolais after that as it was right the time the market fell out for anything not Angus and I just didn’t have the heart to continue with them. Said for a long time I’d never have another, but I’ve softened on that, if things line up just right I might try again.
 

Ebenezer

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Most AI bulls go from the hot new stud to forgotten has-been before their daughters raise their second calf. That is my biggest problem with AI bulls nowadays. I like a well proven AI bull. One with enough offspring to have data reported from multiple parties and not just the partners with a financial interest. Most AI bulls never seem to get that chance. I think 90% of the bulls I see listed in catalogs never sire more than a handful of calves, and disappear from the catalog within a year or maybe two. Only a handful of them are ever used heavily.

When I see a bull I'm interested in, I like to wait until he has a couple years of production records from his daughters. With most I find I'm no longer interested after seeing his offspring and the changes in his EPD's that are the result of actual data reported. The ones that I still want to use have often already been pulled from the line-up. They are only 5 or 6 years old, but you can't even find semen on them anymore and the studs have dropped them in favor of new unproven stars. A few may still have semen available, but it is priced so high I can't begin to rationalize using it in a commercial herd. It seems rare to see a bull over 6 years of age listed in many semen catalogs. That makes it more difficult to use a proven AI bull.
Try to find offspring from the high dollar annual donated and auctioned AAA heifers on the green sawdust! They just "disappear"!

I waited 14 years to try a bull AI because I did not care for his sire's ability. This bull was still collecting at that age. It was 33% useful. Hard to make the pencil out.
 

Son of Butch

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Who is to say that a $10,000 bull is better than a $5000. They could be near identical....
Yep, and every year out of the thousands and thousands of steers going into feedlots there are several of them that are better than either of them, bcs nobody can look inside and see what genomes they would actually transmit.
All we can do is make our best guess.

Reminds me back in the '80s I knew the dairy farmer who had the Grand Champion Holstien Bull at the World Dairy Expo.
The back story was he had castrated the bull's full brother the year before and every month when he looked in the steer lot he regretted it more and more, so when Elvis was born he decided to keep him a bull. But he said, "Who knows the first one may have been the better of the two. I think that steer was at least every bit as good."
 
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SPH

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AI is not a bad thing if you do your homework and select proven bulls that meet your selection criteria. I want to see some calves sired by a bull before buying semen and I want to see some production of out of the animals in his pedigree to know he's not just some unproven EPD wonder. We've gone away from buying semen from the sire studs over the years and focused on selecting bulls being used by programs we feel are raising the type of cattle we want in our program. Most of the bulls we've used in recent years we have bought the semen directly from the breeder although occasionally some of those breeders only offer a certain bull through a sire stud who bought interest in their bull but we initially didn't select the bull from some sire stud catalog it was because we follow that breeder's program and have seen calves sired by the bull in their program or others we know that have used the bull.

We have to use some AI in our small herd as our walking herd sire we usually only breed for about 4 calving seasons on average then switch bulls because we get too many daughters. Just like our herd bulls we are always evaluating our AI sire options too when the need arises to find a new bloodline to use.
 

Aero

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The advantage in A.I. is to use proven sires.... with traits proven to Match your desired result.
I have to say, this will be the most underrated statement.

If you are using bulls because they work great in a system that is not similar to yours from cows to sold calves, you used the wrong bull - no matter how much he sold for or what the advertisement says
 

angus9259

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I've never seen a substantial difference in calf quality or performance between AI and natural service - enough to make it worth doing AI for just calf performance reasons. The reasons I do AI

1. More rapid genetic diversity maintenance (especially if you're striving for a closed herd)
2. Bulls break / fail - good to have at least one round of AI in them - I always run a cleanup bull anyway as my most freaked out bull customers are the ones who thought they could JUST do AI :)
3. I think there's GREAT value in knowing rough calving dates
4. Bringing in genetics I otherwise could not afford (think SAV, Coleman, or whatever your flavor)
5. EPDs (note it's listed last). I do use them. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong, but long term it probably helps guide a program.
 

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