Bad habits. We all have them. They are often developed as a way to get the job done faster or easier, but that doesn’t always mean the job is done right. Members of the GENEX A.I. training team share the most common bad habits they witness on farms. If you are victim of these bad habits, accept that you’ve made them and begin paving your path to improvement.
According to Carlos Marin and Javier Cheang, here are the five most common bad A.I. habits they see on farms today.
1) Over confidence. Once an individual has gained experience breeding cows, it is easy to try to skip steps. Don't! Every step is important to achieving good results.
2) Pulling the gun out instead of pushing the plunger when depositing semen. This is very common. To properly deposit semen, push the plunger half way and then double-check placement of the tip of the gun. If the tip is in the right place (through the cervix and just into the uterine body), deposit the second half of the semen.
3) Depositing frozen semen. The Pocket Thaw™ method is easy to do, but sometimes not enough time is allowed for the semen to thaw properly (should thaw in pocket for 2-3 minutes). If the cow is located really close to where the gun is being loaded, it is better to opt for the water thaw method.
4) Dirt, grime and slime. This is a combination of several instances where a little extra time and effort can yield big results. Wrap the loaded A.I. gun in a clean breeding sleeve. Often breeders place the guns directly into their shirt, but remember, whatever is put into the cow's reproductive tract is going to stay there. If the gun was not wrapped, it could mean way more than just semen is being deposited (e.g., sweat, lint, dust, manure, deodorant). Clean the semen thawing vessels. It is common to find slimy water in thaw vessels. This is a good source of contamination for semen straws and A.I. guns. Also check that the thermometer is working properly. The water must be between 95 to 98° F (35-37°C). Clean those gunky pockets in A.I. gun warmers. If using a gun warmer, make sure to clean and wash the inside pocket often. Clean contaminated A.I. guns. Guns should be cleaned at least once a week with warm water, but never add detergent. Let them dry standing upright. Spray them with alcohol to help with disinfection. Clean manure off the vulva. Be sure to clean the vulva with a paper towel prior to inserting the A.I. gun to prevent contamination.
5) Raising the canister above the semen tank frost line. Be careful when removing semen from the tank. Lifting the canister above the frost line exposes the remaining semen straws to room temperatures and starts the thawing process, thus providing opportunity for sperm damage.
For most beef producers, high on your fall to-do list is pregnancy checking the herd. It’s an important herd management step because, as we all know, culling the open females can lead to significant savings at the feed pile. Along with pregnancy detection, there is another important observation you should make while the pregnant female is in the chute – body condition score (BCS).
Feeding a female into a higher BCS at calving is a losing proposition, limited by the cow’s ability to consume enough to overcome her energy deficit and the size of your feed bill. That is why body condition scoring at pregnancy check is such an important tool. At pregnancy check cows are in mid-gestation, which is one of their lowest maintenance energy requirement times, therefore it is the most economical time to add body condition. The quandary of waiting until calving to observe body condition is that a female in her early post-partum period is experiencing some of the highest maintenance energy requirements of her life. This is especially true for 2-year olds who not only work hard to produce milk to raise their calf but are still growing themselves.
Research tells us body condition score at calving has one of the greatest impacts on rebreeding performance. For a cow to maintain a 365-day calving interval, she must be rebred by 82 days post-calving. Cows that calve at a BCS 3 or 4, on average, exhibit first estrus at approximately 80 days post-calving, making it very difficult to maintain a one-year calving interval. On the other hand, females that calve at a BCS 5 or 6 average 55 days to first heat post-calving.1
At pregnancy check you want the majority of cows in a BCS 5 or 6 for optimal reproductive performance.
Once you have BCS score information, it is important to use it. If pasture or pen space is available, it is a good idea to group cattle by body condition. You can then manage thin females to gain condition and manage other females to maintain body condition in the most efficient manner possible.
The importance of body condition score and its role in the rebreeding efficiency of your herd should not be overlooked. After all, the success of your next breeding season is largely determined before this year’s calf crop hits the ground!
1. Rasby, Rick. Body Condition Scoring Your Beef Cow Herd. University of Nebraska-
Lincoln. Learning Modules.
Steve Trantham, recently retired AVP of Regional Production Services from GENEX, was awarded the 2019 Service to the Industry Award at this month’s Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle Conference in Tennessee. This award recognizes outstanding contributions by individuals working in the artificial insemination (A.I.) industry towards the application or increased use of A.I. and estrous synchronization by beef producers.
Boyd Dingus from Estrotect (L) and Dr. Sandy Johnson from Kansas State University (R) present Steve (center) with his award on behalf of the selection committee.
During Steve’s tenure with GENEX he not only served as manager of the production center in Strafford, Missouri, he also consulted for other GENEX facilities in Montana, South Dakota, Louisiana and Alabama, ensuring each location produced the highest quality semen possible.
Throughout Steve’s career one of his greatest passions was to develop the next generation of bull stud employees. Over the course of his career, Steve hired over 50 University of Missouri students to work part-time at the Strafford collection facility. These students received a lifetime of experience from Steve in bull management, semen collection, processing and exporting semen. Several of these students have gone on to full-time careers in the beef industry or back to their own family ranches with improved knowledge of how to better their A.I. programs.
Working at a custom collection facility, Steve had many opportunities to work directly with ranchers on understanding A.I., the importance of semen handling and tight alignment to protocols. In a letter of recommendation to the award committee, one rancher who had worked with Steve for over 40 years described him this way, “In a word, integrity best describes the performance and professionalism of Steve.”
In recent years, Steve spearheaded efforts at the GENEX custom collection facilities to meet new inspection requirements developed by USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and Certified Semen Services. The written response, authored by Steve, has been used as a guideline in training workshops for APHIS veterinarians that endorse semen or embryo export papers.
Steve made many incredible contributions to beef A.I. over the course of his career. We congratulate him and wish him the best in his retirement!
The single, most important meal your calf will consume in its lifetime is the first feeding of colostrum. Here, the experts at SCCL share details on when and how to assist your calves with colostrum to ensure a successful calving season.
Which calves need a colostrum supplement or replacement?
There are many circumstances when you should feed a colostrum product. These can include very cold (or warm) weather, twin births, and calves born to first-calf heifers with poor mothering instinct and low quantity of colostrum; however, calves born with difficulty (also known as dystocia) are at the greatest risk for failure of passive transfer of immunity, since they are often slow to get up and suckle. Additionally, their ability to absorb antibodies may be compromised due to the delay of nursing and altered metabolic parameters. Whenever calves are born with intervention or assistance, the calf should always be given at least a supplemental dose of colostrum, if not a full replacement dose. Also, you should consider supplementing any calf that has not suckled within 1-2 hours of birth to get them started.
When should colostrum be fed?
With each minute that passes after birth, a calf’s ability to absorb antibodies is reduced. By 24 hours the gut is almost completely closed and can no longer absorb antibodies. Colostrum must be fed as soon as possible after birth, ideally within 1-2 hours. If bottle or tube feeding is necessary – when it is not possible to milk the cow immediately or get the calf up and suckling – a good quality colostrum supplement or replacer is an excellent alternative to ensure the calf receives a timely first meal. If colostrum has been delayed past 2 hours, feed larger amounts to compensate for reduced absorption.
How much colostrum do calves need?
When it comes to colostrum, research shows more is better. Most veterinarians now recommend calves receive at least 1 gallon or 4 liters of good quality colostrum, which should provide calves with 150-200g of IgG. New USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System recommendations suggest at least 200g IgG to achieve “excellent” passive transfer. Quality colostrum replacers can be used when the dam does not provide enough volume or where colostral quality and IgG concentration is low. A significant percentage of first-calf heifers produce only small volumes of colostrum, sometimes less than 1 liter, so their calves would benefit from a colostrum supplement or replacer.
Should cold weather calves be treated differently?
Calves have a thermal neutral zone of 59 to 77°F (15 to 25°C), and calves are often born into conditions much colder than this. Calves need a timely feeding of colostrum to warm them by providing energy to shiver and thermoregulate. Colostrum contains unique colostral fat that initiates metabolism of brown fat stores which fuels the calf’s internal furnace for heat and energy to get up, suckle, stay warm and stay alive.
Can I use colostrum from my cows, and if so, how?
Herd colostrum can be used to supplement calves of other dams, but to be done right, it is a demanding process. Colostrum should be collected with sanitized equipment within 2 hours of birth. Then, it should be tested with a refractometer or hydrometer to measure quality; only colostrum that meets parameters consistent with high IgG levels should be used. The colostrum should be cooled in small 1L or less containers as quickly as possible since bacteria numbers double every 20 minutes. Then, the colostrum should be stored either in a refrigerator for no more than 48 hours or frozen for no more than a year. Avoid freezing and thawing repeatedly as this may reduce the quality and life span of colostrum. It is unwise to use colostrum from neighboring dairy farms as this is a risk for introducing disease agents into the herd, even from farms using an on-farm pasteurizer.
What should I look for in a colostrum product?
The most effective colostrum products are derived from bovine colostrum. Examine ingredient labels carefully. Most products are made from various sources and include a formula of proteins and fats from these sources. Colostrum-based products contain all the immune, metabolic and growth factors naturally found in maternal colostrum. As previously stated, one crucial ingredient is colostral fat, which is essential for activating brown fat metabolism, an important energy source required by the calf immediately after birth. Products that contain blood or whey with added vegetable and animal fats not naturally found in colostrum do not provide the same benefits for the calf, and some of these products contain no actual colostrum at all. Look for products that are regulated by the USDA and backed by numerous safety and efficacy studies published in scientific journals.
How do good colostrum feeding practices impact long-term productivity?
The financial benefits of good colostrum feeding practices due to improvements on tangible production parameters are often overlooked. Ensuring proper colostrum intake can improve average daily gain, improved health with reduced treatment and more efficient feed conversion. Lastly, a calf that does not achieve passive transfer of immunity is four times more likely to die, and mortality has extremely negative impacts on bottom line.
What colostrum products are available through GENEX?
GENEX offers an array of colostrum products to meet your needs whether feeding a full replacer or a supplement. Calf’s Choice Total® HiCal colostrum, Calf’s Choice Total® Gold colostrum, PureStart™ colostrum and Genesis colostrum are available online or through your GENEX representative.
If you raise cattle most of your life, you’ll have the opportunity to influence about 10 generations. Therefore, each generation and each mating is a big responsibility. As a breeder, commit to identifying not simply the most popular bull but the BEST fit for your herd. To accomplish this, you’ll have to sort through all the information to find what you need and want.
There are countless pieces of data available when seeking to evaluate potential A.I. sires or herd bulls. While originally developed decades ago, Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) are considered the gold standard of tools available for genetic progress. Today, EPDs are available for performance, maternal and carcass traits. Indexes also exist for different situations, and these continue to evolve (more on indexes another time).
Even after seeing EPDs in bull sale catalogs and A.I. sire directories for years, making sense of it all can sometimes seem mind boggling. Let’s take a step back and review the foundation.
Where are you now? Where do you want to be? What are you paid for?
Before making mating decisions, consider the genetic makeup of your cowherd. Are your cows predominantly British-based, Continental-based or a blend? For commercial herds, it makes sense (and cents) to utilize crossbreeding for the added benefit of lowly heritable traits like reproductive traits. It also makes sense to select for highly heritable traits like growth and carcass traits using EPDs. For example, Angus-based commercial herds would mate well with a Simmental or Charolais bull that has top percentile EPDs for growth, ribeye area and low fat thickness EPDs.
Also, consider the strengths and weaknesses of your cowherd. For instance, if your herd has a higher than desirable amount of thin and/or open cows it may be beneficial to choose sires that are lower milk EPD and higher $EN (Angus) or Stayability (Red Angus). Different areas of the country and different management levels require different levels of milk EPD, so it is important to select the optimal EPD level, not necessarily the highest. The use of high accuracy A.I. sires is the best method for matching the needs of each female in the herd as well as the goals of your breeding program as a whole.
After considering the current genetics of your cowherd, think about your goals for future production. Do you wish to grow the herd by retaining home-raised heifers or will most calves be sold to the feedlot?
If you intend to keep your heifers for replacements, then emphasis should be placed on bulls with high-ranking maternal EPDs like Calving Ease Maternal (CEM), Milk, Mature Weight (MW), Mature Height (MH) and other similar traits. EPDs are even (finally) available for foot and udder traits in some breeds. In contrast, if you sell all calves to market, you should focus on A.I. bulls that are trait leaders for performance traits like Weaning Weight (WW). Both herds should keep Calving Ease Direct (CED) and Birth Weight (BW) at reasonable levels (many herds use breed average or better as a threshold); this helps keep calving difficulty to a minimum and maximizes the number of weaned calves. Ranches that retain ownership greatly benefit from selection for growth and carcass traits (YW, Marbling, REA, Carcass Weight).
In short, by using EPDs and selecting for practical and functional phenotype (structure, muscling, capacity, balance, etc.), you can be certain you are making the most informed decision possible. At GENEX, this is called a combination of cow sense and science.
Understanding EPDs and Accuracy
EPDs or Expected Progeny Differences do exactly what their name implies: predict how a bull’s calves will compare to calves of the average bull of the same breed.
When making breeding decisions using EPDs, it is helpful to consider the accuracy values of those EPDs. Young sires with genomically enhanced EPDs usually have accuracy values in the .30-.40 range while mature bulls with recorded progeny data have much higher accuracy values. The closer the accuracy value is to one, the window of change for each EPD becomes much smaller. Using high accuracy A.I. sires chosen to complement the needs and goals of the ranch is undoubtedly the most economical and practical method to make multi-trait genetic progress in a commercial cowherd, regardless of the herd’s goals.
Build Your Team, Build Your Knowledge
While reading this article, if your mind drifted to thoughts of corn yields or those truck commercials featuring new fancy tailgates, hang on for this one last point: if genetics isn’t your strong suit, build your team!
Don’t be afraid to seek assistance from an A.I. industry professional, breed association representative or your seedstock provider. Ask lots of questions of these people and use them as part of your network of trusted professionals.
Use all the tools available (information and people) to breed your 10 generations of better, more profitable cattle.
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!