After making the progressive decision to implement artificial insemination (A.I.) into your herd, there is one big word to focus on: STOCKMANSHIP. Stockmanship is the knowledgeable and skillful handling of livestock in a safe, efficient, effective and low stress manner (Stockmanship Journal).
While it’s important to practice good stockmanship skills whenever handling cattle, it’s especially important when you have a group of females set up for A.I. You have to realize this is the third time in 20 days the females have gone through your facilities, you have manipulated their hormones and, if you’re A.I.ing cows, there are now calves involved. That might sound like a lot of hassle, but the results next spring or fall will be well worth it!
Here are a few simple points about stockmanship during an A.I. project that will make your day
much more enjoyable.
1. Get the right crew
That means the right cowboy crew. GENEX will provide you with an excellent breeding crew. You can count on that!
Get your crew involved and excited about the A.I. project before it starts. Don’t be afraid to talk to them about showing up on time, making certain someone is in charge of supplies, sharing the value of A.I. and reminding them this is a little different than branding or weaning day.
When it comes to gathering, sorting and getting cattle through the A.I. barn, nothing is worse than having people there who don’t believe in what you are doing. If your cowboy crew is excited about A.I. day, they are calmer, more patient and easier on the cattle. All these things translate to more pregnancies and more money in your pocket.
When it comes to the cowboy crew, remember less is more. Less people with more experience and patience yield better results almost every time. The right crew will be the difference in your success.
2. Facility design
When it comes to facilities, it’s not about trying to reinvent the wheel; it’s about making sure everything is in the right place so you can do more with less. With a virgin heifer A.I. project, you can usually leave everything the way it is for everyday use. Not much sorting needs to happen, and facilities are usually designed to process yearling size cattle.
With an A.I. project involving mature cows, her calf is added to the equation, but it’s not that bad! Anyone who has A.I.ed mature cows will tell you the first time they were a little uneasy, because they didn’t know what to expect. In the years to follow, it just becomes part of the process.
GENEX can help with minor changes to your facilities to get pairs split in a safe, low stress and efficient manner. Little things, such as removing the bottom two rails of a panel for calves to go under into a separate holding pen, can be an easy add-on to any facility.
See how one person can sort pairs without additional labor or stress. http://bit.ly/SortingCow-CalfPairs.
3. Cattle Handling
First things first, please do your A.I. crew a favor and check everyone’s truck, trailer and even their saddlebags to ensure every hot shot was left at home! The WORST tool someone can bring to an A.I. project is a hot shot with fresh batteries.
Based on firsthand experience, standing behind cattle that have had a hot shot used on them in the alley makes for an unsafe work environment. Instead, use tools such as flag whips, sorting sticks or fiberglass poles. These items induce less stress on cattle than hot shots, and when the cattle aren’t stressed neither is the crew. Everyone wins!
It doesn’t take much to make your A.I. project a success. A little stockmanship goes a long way. Don’t be afraid to talk to your crew beforehand about what is expected, and never miss an opportunity to help correct what someone is doing in order to make things run smoother. Handling cattle is a continual learning process, and every situation is unique. Sometimes you have to be creative and think outside of the box. If you have any questions or would like assistance on your next A.I. project, contact GENEX at 888.333.1783.
Demonstrating commitment to the future of agriculture, GENEX annually awards scholarships to college students pursuing degrees in agriculture. Applicants must be actively involved on a GENEX member’s farm or ranch and exhibit a passion of leading the way in the agriculture industry.
You will find the five recipients of this year’s $750 Collegiate Scholarship exemplify the drive, dedication and devotion agriculture requires. The lessons they have learned through their agriculture involvement are proof:
Leif Annexstad, St. Peter, Minnesota
Animal Science, University of Minnesota
“My time on the farm has taught me many things. I’ve learned about animal nutrition by talking to our nutritionist and about animal health by visiting with our veterinarian. I’ve learned even more from conversations with my dad and uncles, including to be patient with animals as well as people.”
Justin Engebretsen, Gillett, Wisconsin
Agricultural Engineering, University of Wisconsin-River Falls
“Agriculture is an industry that will always be important because humans need food and other animal by products. One of the lessons I learned from my agricultural involvement is hard work always pays off.”
Jack McCrory, Linton, North Dakota
Agriculture Economics, North Dakota State University
“Agriculture has a way of helping people push themselves to develop skills and make decisions that will have positive life-long impacts. These connections, no matter how small or distant, always leave a lasting impact.”
Eric Ranke, Waterford, Wisconsin
Dairy Science, University of Wisconsin-Platteville
“There is no doubt agriculture is the single greatest influencer of who I am today. Agriculture is the most diverse, important and sustainable industry we have; we must protect and advocate for its future.”
Ellen Schilderink, Hart, Texas
Agribusiness-Dairy Management, Tarleton State University
“Agriculture is the way I grew up and how I Iive every day. My work ethic and determination to get the job done came from countless hours on our dairy.”
As Terri Dallas, GENEX Vice President of Member Relations, states, “We are proud to support youth who are interested in furthering their education and commitment to agriculture. Not only do these students understand the importance of agriculture, they are tremendous advocates as well.”
“These students are a promise to a bright future in agriculture.”
The hard work, passion and leadership skills needed for the agriculture industry is not lost on these students. In their applications they described opportunities that helped them grow, such as study abroad programs, working as an assistant research student, attending leadership conferences, delivering Meals on Wheels, taking advanced placement classes to push themselves academically, spearheading educational events to spread agriculture awareness and managing critical roles on the operations where they work.
“These students are a promise to a bright future in agriculture,” states Terri. “Along with their exceptional leadership, the heart and determination they demonstrate sends a strong message that tomorrow’s agriculture is in good hands.”
Embryonic loss is the greatest economic loss in the beef cow/calf industry. Therefore, your management decisions around breeding time should consider factors that may influence embryonic mortality and calf survivability. In this article, Sarah Fields, a previous Graduate Research Assistant in Beef Production, and Dr. George Perry, Beef Reproduction & Management Specialist with SDSU Animal & Range Sciences, help you better understand the effects of stress on embryonic mortality so you can make management decisions that minimize its impact.
In order to understand how stress may increase embryonic mortality, you must first understand the development of the embryo (Table 1).
Just like the estrous cycle, embryo development begins on day 0, or the day of standing estrus. This is the day the female is receptive to the male and insemination occurs. Ovulation occurs on day 1 or about 30 hours after the first standing mount (Wiltbank et al., 2000). If viable sperm is present, fertilization occurs inside the oviduct shortly after ovulation. The first cell division occurs on day 2, and by day 3 the embryo has reached the 8-cell stage (Shea, 1981). Between days 5 and 6 the embryo migrates into the uterine horn and by day 7 to 8 it forms into a blastocyst (Shea, 1981; Flechon and Renard, 1978; Peters, 1996). At this stage two distinct parts of the embryo can be seen: 1) the inner cell mass, which will become the fetus and 2) the trophoblast, which become the placenta.
Between days 9 and 11 the embryo hatches from the zona pellucida, a protective shell that has surrounded the embryo to this point (Shea, 1981; Peters, 1996). Then, on days 15 to 17, the embryo sends a signal to the cow to tell her she is pregnant (Peters, 1996). This is the first signal the cow receives to know she is pregnant. The embryo attaches to the uterus beginning on day 19, and around day 25, placentation, an intricate cellular interface between the cow and the calf, begins. By day 42 the embryo has fully attached to the uterus of the cow (Peters, 1996).
Shipping Stress and Embryonic Mortality
With knowledge of the critical time points in embryonic development, it becomes easier to understand how stress from shipping can result in increased embryonic mortality in cows (Table 2).
When you load your animals on a trailer and haul them to a new location, they become stressed and release hormones related to stress. These hormones lead to a release of different hormones that change the uterine environment where the embryo is developing. During blastocyst formation, hatching, maternal recognition of pregnancy, and attachment to the uterus, the embryo is vulnerable to these changes.
These most critical time points are between days 5 and 42 after insemination. Before day 5, the embryo is in the oviduct and is not subject to changes in the uterine environment. Therefore, stress does not influence embryo survivability at this time.
The greater the length of time after day 42, the less severe the influence of shipping stress on embryonic loss appears to be. At the time of complete attachment of the embryo to the uterus the embryo is supported by the mother and appears to be not as easily affected by changes in its environment. On the other hand, between these time points (5-42 days), the embryo is at greatest risk.
When Should Cows Not be Shipping?
Shipping cows between days 5 and 42 can be detrimental to embryo survival and cause around a 10% decrease in pregnancy rates (Table 2). Research has also demonstrated that shipping cattle 45 to 60 days after insemination can result in 6% of embryos being lost. Therefore, even shipping cattle 45 to 60 days after insemination may increase embryonic mortality.
Critical time points such as blastocyst formation, hatching, maternal recognition of pregnancy and adhesion to the uterus take place during the time of pregnancy. If these events are disturbed, it leads to increased embryonic mortality and decreased pregnancy rates. Therefore, it is important for you to transport cattle before the breeding season or immediately after insemination.
When Can Cows be Shipped?
Shipping between days 1-4 is best. The embryo is still in the oviduct during this time and therefore likely not subjected to uterine changes.
After day 45, the embryo is well established and fully attached with the placenta. Therefore, it is less susceptible to the changes resulting from stress as well. Shipping at this point is less risky; however, embryonic loss from shipping has been reported up to 60 days after insemination. Take care to reduce the stress involved when animals are shipped. Do not overcrowd trailers. Handle cattle as gently and calmly as possible.
Heat Stress and Embryonic Mortality
The best time to ship cattle is during early stages of embryonic development. However, this is also when the embryo is most susceptible to increased temperatures. Temperature, humidity, radiant heat and wind all affect heat stress in cows.
The rectal temperature of cattle is normally 102.2°F. An increase in rectal temperature as little as 2°F can result in decreased embryonic development (Ulberg and Berfening, 1967). When those temperatures reach 105.8°F for as little as 9 hours on the day of insemination, embryonic development can be compromised (Rivera and Hansen, 2001).
Heat stress has also been reported to change follicular waves, resulting in reduced oocyte quality (Wolfenson et al., 1995). Researchers have reported heat stress 42 days prior (Al-Katanani et al., 2001) and up to 40 days after breeding can affect pregnancy rates (Cartmill et al., 2001). This illustrates how important it is to plan ahead for the breeding season.
There are several ways to reduce the effects of heat stress. Shade, fans and misters can all reduce the effects of heat stress in natural service or artificial insemination (A.I.) programs. These methods allow animals to stay cooler during the hottest parts of the day. In humid areas, misters may not actually benefit animals. If the water cannot evaporate, it is not effective at cooling the animal.
Producers who utilize A.I. can also implement timed A.I. (T.A.I.) protocols to increase pregnancy rates during the hot summer months. Timed A.I. has increased pregnancy rates over animals inseminated 12 hours after estrus detection in conditions of heat stress (Arechiga et al., 1998; de la Sota et al., 1998). This is most likely due to fewer animals showing signs of estrus when under heat stress. When the weather is too hot, animals tend to not move around as much and do not show signs of standing estrus. Heat detection is a vital part of getting more animals pregnant. Since fewer animals are seen in heat, fewer animals can be inseminated. In this case, T.A.I. would be the best protocol to use, because it eliminates heat detection.
Using embryo transfer during times of heat stress can also increase pregnancy rates. High-quality, fresh embryos have been proven to increase pregnancy rates over A.I. in heat-stressed cows (Putney et al., 1989). Embryos at time of embryo transfer can adapt to the elevated temperatures. Therefore, use of embryo transfer during times of heat stress can improve pregnancy success.
Planning for Success
Getting cows and heifers pregnant during the breeding season - especially early in the breeding season - can have a tremendous impact on your profitability levels. You’ve already put forth the time, effort and cost to have a successful breeding season (natural service or A.I.). Ensure your management decisions lead to success too. Don’t stress animals during critical time points in embryo development. Consider heat stress and shipping stress as well. In short, planning around the breeding season becomes an important management tool for you to maximize pregnancy success.
To help with your next beef cattle synchronization project, Sarah Thorson (GENEX Beef Marketing & Education Manager) has compiled answers to your most frequently asked questions.
What is the best synchronization protocol for cows and heifers?
There isn’t an easy answer to this question. Research suggests some protocols perform better than others, but just because research says it’s the best protocol, doesn’t necessarily make it the best protocol for your operation. Sarah advises you ask yourself three questions before choosing a synchronization protocol:
› How many times am I willing to put the female through the chute?
› How much am I willing to spend on synchronization drugs?
› What are my expectations for results?
Once you know the answers to these questions you can objectively analyze which synchronization program is the best fit for your operation. No matter what the research or experts tell you, the best protocol for your operation is one that aligns with your goals. It’s the protocol you are 100% confident you can perform perfectly from start to finish.
What criteria should be used to ensure females are good candidates for A.I.?
The answer depends if you are synchronizing heifers or cows.
Criteria for synchronizing heifers:
› Should have achieved at least 65% of mature body weight
› Minimum of 50% should have a reproductive tract score of ≥ 4 at six weeks before breeding
If you don’t have a veterinarian in your area that offers reproductive tract scoring, don’t panic! You can achieve the same thing by visually observing heifers for heat in the weeks and months leading up to breeding. You want to observe at least 50% are cycling six weeks prior to breeding.
Criteria for synchronizing cows:
› Body condition score of ≥ 5 at calving
› Group should average a postpartum interval of ≥ 40 days at the beginning of the protocol
› Each cow should be a minimum of 21 days postpartum at the time of Eazi-Breed™ CIDR® insertion
› Low incidence of calving difficulty
Where is the best place to give synchronization injections? What needle size should be used?
Synchronization drugs should be given in the muscle (IM), with the exception of LUTALYSE® Hi-Con which can be administered IM or subcutaneously. When administering synchronization drugs, Sarah recommends using a 1-½ inch, 18-gauge needle. She also recommends you wear gloves when handling any synchronization drugs to avoid contact with skin.
Can CIDR® inserts be reused?
CIDR® inserts are labeled as a one-time use item by the manufacturer, and Sarah recommends following this guideline. CIDR® inserts are one of the most expensive parts of a synchronization protocol, retailing at $10 to $12, so it is tempting to cut that cost in half by using a CIDR® for a second time. The next time you are tempted, though, ask yourself what another A.I. calf is worth to you. It’s likely a lot more than $5 to $6.
Can vaccines and dewormer be given while the female is in the chute for CIDR® insertion?
A pre-breeding vaccination program is an important part of an overall successful A.I. program. However, several studies have shown injection of naïve heifers with a modified live vaccine (MLV) around the time of breeding resulted in ovarian lesions and decreased pregnancy rates. Therefore, Sarah recommends all pre-breeding vaccinations be given at least 30 days prior to breeding.
While there isn’t any research that suggests administering dewormer at breeding will have a negative impact on fertility, Sarah recommends it be done at least 30 days prior to breeding as well. The less stress put on females around breeding time, the better your success. For optimal results, it’s best to do as little as possible to the females during the synchronization and breeding process.
How soon can cattle be moved after insemination?
The most critical time periods for embryonic development occur between day five (when the embryo begins its migration from the oviduct to the uterus) and day 42 (when the embryo has made definitive attachment to the uterus). Research indicates shipping cows during this critical time in embryo development can cause a 10% decrease in pregnancy rates. The best time to move cattle is prior to insemination or days one to four post-breeding. If you can’t move them within this time period, it’s best to wait until after day 45.
Despite what research might say, no single synchronization protocol fits every operation. Know your operation, follow the suggestions above and trust your gut!
GENEX now offers RumiLife® M Drench™ nutritional supplement, a ready-to-use oral electrolyte for beef and dairy cattle.
RumiLife® M Drench™ nutritional supplement is an oral supplement specifically formulated for your post-fresh cows. It provides bioavailable sources of nutrients to promote fresh cow health during the transition period. The supplement includes calcium propionate and calcium chloride as highly available forms of calcium. It also includes magnesium sulfate for replenishing magnesium and regulating calcium; potassium, chloride and sodium for electrolyte replacement; glycine for optimal electrolyte absorption; and dextrose for added energy.
“The product works to replenish calcium to help the onset of milk and colostrum production,” states Liz Binversie, GENEX Herd Care Line Advisor. “It also provides a source of electrolytes which are necessary for regulating the amount of fluids throughout the body, which affect cellular function, blood volume and blood pressure.”
RumiLife® M Drench™ nutritional supplement comes in a 0.5 lb. bag. Mix one bag to five gallons of water or two bags to 10 gallons of water per cow daily, up to three days.
Connect with us to learn how our world-class cattle genetics, progressive reproductive solutions, and value-added services can advance your operation. Click here to contact us today!