Have you ever wondered what a large artificial insemination (A.I.) breeding project is like? The logistics and planning required can seem overwhelming and is often the reason beef cattle producers choose not to A.I. However, if the logistics can be solved - and they most always can - the advantages of A.I. can help improve your bottom line. Think more calves born earlier in the breeding season, the ability to use proven genetics and value-added replacement females.
Follow along on this recent breeding project and you will understand why GENEX is known for offering the industry’s best chute-side service!
Sarah Thorson, GENEX Beef Education & Marketing Manager, makes her way down to the hotel lobby where Justin Hergenreder, GENEX Beef Large Herd Development Manager, is anxiously waiting to get on the road. Justin is the logistics guy. If you are concerned about the facilities, time or labor involved in a breeding project, Justin is the person to talk to. While Sarah grabs a cup of coffee and a quick bite to eat, Justin briefs her on the day’s events. There are about 550 total head of cows to breed at two different locations. Talk about logistics! As always, Justin has a plan and is confident the day will go smoothly.
After a quick trip to the local doughnut shop to get a treat for the cowboy crew, Justin and Sarah arrive at the ranch. The ranch’s cowboy crew has already been hard at work. They have gathered the first group of cows and are just finishing sorting the calves off. Troy Carruthers and Matt Dolezal, GENEX Independent Contractors, have arrived as well, and the GENEX team gets to work setting up the double-stall breeding barn, filling thaw units with water and plugging in the A.I. gun warmers. The portable breeding barn makes it possible to breed cows almost anywhere. If you have some kind of corral and alley (portable, temporary or permanent), the breeding barn can be backed up to it and, when things are moving smoothly, 80 females can easily be bred per hour.
A portable breeding barn makes it possible to breed cows almost anywhere. The breeding barn can be backed up to a portable, temporary or permanent corral and alley for efficient and stress-free breeding.
The first cows start rolling through the chute right on schedule. There are about 280 cows to be bred at the first location. The GENEX team quickly falls into place. Justin, Troy and Matt take turns A.I.ing in a three-man rotation, while Sarah starts off the morning thawing semen.
The cows are being bred with semen from 1AN01300 INVESTMENT. The ranch feeds their own calves, so INVESTMENT was a great choice as his progeny are known to feed well. That, however, isn’t the only reason they chose him. INVESTMENT also has a 103 PregCheck™ ranking. The PregCheck™ fertility ranking system, proprietary to GENEX, is the first of its kind in the beef industry and evaluates an individual sire’s frozen semen conception rate. While everyone knows some A.I. sires get more cows pregnant than others, in the past it was difficult to measure a bull’s conception ability. With PregCheck™ rankings it’s easy! At a 103 ranking, you can expect INVESTMENT to achieve about three more pregnancies per 100 breedings than his contemporaries. On the 550 cows being bred today, that’s 16 extra A.I. calves!
The cowboy crew loads up their horses and heads five miles down the road to the second group of cows while the GENEX team finishes the first group, cleans up the breeding barn, hooks it to Justin’s pick-up and heads out. At the next location it’s a tight squeeze for the breeding barn, but Justin gets it backed up and the team works to put everything back where it belongs while the cowboys finish sorting.
After a quick breeding barn picnic consisting of Little Debbie® Honey Buns and Double Stuf OREO cookies (no one said a breeding project would be good for your diet), the GENEX team is back at work. This time Matt takes a turn thawing semen, and Sarah jumps into the breeding rotation.
Although Sarah’s been breeding cows for almost 20 years, her job as the Beef Marketing and Education Manager keeps her at a desk most days, so she loves an opportunity to be out at a breeding project. She always learns something and is amazed at how efficiently the team can manage a project of this magnitude. Everyone has a role to play. As indicated, Justin is the logistics guy. He takes his job very seriously. While he is always up for a joke in the breeding barn, he also sets the tone and keeps things moving. He is also the cleanest A.I. technician ever; don’t you dare run into him with a poopy glove on! Matt is an Angus genetics and pedigree guru. He knows what it takes to make a good one. Troy is the energizer bunny of the breeding barn. He never seems to get tired. Everyone else is always willing to take a turn thawing semen so they can stand in one place for a while. Not Troy. He wants to be where the action is.
Chute-side service breeding projects are a team effort. You get the cattle to the alleyway, and GENEX takes care of the breeding!
A quick look out the back window of the breeding barn shows the corral behind the alley is nearly empty! The last few cows flow smoothly through the barn, and the job is done! Everything is packed up and the breeding barn is hooked to Troy’s pick-up, so he can drop it off for tomorrow’s breeding project. There are another 300 head to breed tomorrow morning! It’s been an awesome day. Things couldn’t have gone smoother, but now it’s time for a cheeseburger, fries and a hot shower!
This is just one example of a recent GENEX breeding project. Nearly every day of the spring breeding season, 17 full-time employees and 180 independent contractors are working on breeding projects of all sizes throughout the U.S. Don’t let logistics be the thing that keeps you from using A.I. to add value to your breeding program. The GENEX team has the experience to help you make a plan that will achieve your goals. Whether looking to add value to replacement females, have more calves born earlier in the breeding season or benefit from use of proven genetics, GENEX will be with you every step of the way!
Kelli Retallick, Genetic Service Director with Angus Genetics Inc. recently shared this informative piece on calving ease.
Calving ease is a desired trait. Most would argue it is not
only desired but necessary, as calving difficulty can lower
calf survivability and extend post-partum intervals for cows,
which then lowers breed-back rates. Expected Progeny
Differences (EPDs) can be utilized to help manage this risk.
Often, producers ask, “Can we have too much calving
ease?” To answer, it is important to reflect on the basis of
the calving ease argument, the build of the EPD and what
to expect when using these tools. Knowing this, cow/calf
producers – both seedstock and commercial alike – can
make informed decisions about their own herds.
Using the tool
Calving Ease Direct, or CED, is the
most effective tool when deciding
which bulls to mate to first-calf
heifers. Expressed as a probability
percentage, CED aims to predict the
percentage of unassisted births a bull
will produce when mated to heifers.
Let’s compare two bulls. Bull A has
a CED EPD of +2, and bull B has a
CED EPD of +7. When mating these
two bulls to similar groups of heifers,
phenotypically and genetically, one
would expect, on average, bull B
to produce 5% more unassisted
births than bull A. While no one can
indefinitely state the perfect cut?off
to be used across the industry, producers can rely on the information
available to them to make the best
decisions. It gets even simpler
when producers can rely on past
records to benchmark the amount
of calving difficulty experienced to
understand where selection pressure
should be placed.
Behind the EPD
Calving ease scores collected by
breeders are utilized to predict CED.
These scores range from 1-5, where
1 would indicate a birth with no
assistance. For Angus cattle, only
scores reported on first-calf heifers
are used in the prediction of the CED
EPD. Mature female scores, while
they can be reported, are not used
in the national cattle evaluation as
not enough variation, or differences
among reported scores, exists to add
value to CED predictions.
Birth weight is used as a correlated
trait in the calving ease evaluation.
The correlation, or strength of
relationship, between calving ease
and birth weight is -0.65 which is a moderately strong, negative
relationship. A negative correlation
suggests as one trait goes up
the other goes down. Therefore,
in most cases, as calving ease
increases, birth weight tends to
trend downward. When focusing
on decreasing calving difficulty in
first-calf heifers, it is most effective
to focus on CED EPDs as this is the
economically relevant trait. On the
other hand, if the focus is to strictly
increase or decrease birth weight,
the BW EPD is the tool of choice and
most effective to influence changes
on actual birth weights of calves.
These scores and weights are then
evaluated together in a threshold
model, but it is important to
understand in a threshold model
an underlying assumption is made
about the amount of existing calving
difficulty. Therefore, if the tool is
predicting the decreased number
of assisted births in a population,
a percentage of assisted births is
assumed. In the case of the Angus
CED EPD, this threshold model was
designed to help lower the level of
assisted births present in a mixed
breed commercial cowherd, which
in most cases would have a higher
incidence of calving difficulty than
a purebred registered Angus herd.
This is why patterns in the data
representing the percentage of
assisted and unassisted births of the
purebred Angus herd are not always
completely linear when tracking up
or down the CED scale. Figure 1
breaks out the percentage of assisted
births recorded for each CED EPD
possessed by the sire when bred to a
breed average Angus female. As the
CED EPD of the sire increases, the
number of assisted births decreases.
However, the decrease may not be
by an entire percentage point as
expected. The reason? Mating Angus
sires to Angus females who are breed
average for both calving ease direct
and maternal is not the expected
industry average mating.
In a recent survey conducted by
the American Angus Association,
producers reported treating calving
ease as a completely separate trait
using independent culling levels
when making genetic decisions.
Independent culling is a selection
strategy stating an individual animal
will be culled if it does not meet the
specific requirement of a single trait,
regardless of the levels of other traits.
Using this method of independent
culling, while efficient in making
genetic change in that specific
trait, can lead to drawbacks which
can affect herds in the long term.
Producers setting specific thresholds
on any trait, ignoring a multi-trait
approach, can lead to eliminating
bulls for falling just under this
culling threshold even though they
may possess other characteristics
valuable to the operation.
The bottom line – not all cowherds
are created equal. What can be
utilized safely in one herd may cause
problems in another. Knowing CED is
designed to be a heifer mating tool,
using different bulls to mate first-calf
heifers and mature cows may be
logical. The best advice may be to
understand the cowherd these bulls
will be utilized in.
As a cattle producer, you know your
cowherd better than anyone. If the
bulls used on first-calf heifers have
averaged a +6 for the CED EPD for
several years and you have yet to
pull a calf, then a +6 CED bull is a
safe option. On the other hand, if
your bulls have averaged +10 CED
and you have repeatedly pulled a
higher percentage of calves from
first-calf heifers than desired, then
more calving ease may be necessary.
Understanding the relationships in
your herd is crucial to the overall
success of the genetic program.
You’ve been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the new 2019 GENEX Beef Genetic Management Guide. Soon, you’ll be able to hold it in your hands, page through it, look at the bull photos and analyze the bull data, but did you realize most numbers will have changed by the time the guide hits your mailbox?
Today, EPDs and indexes are updated more frequently than they were in the past. This calls for new methods to get more up-to-date information. This calls for the release of the GENEX Beef app. Available now, it’s your new way to search, sort, view, see and watch bulls!
Download the app on the App Store, Google Play or Windows store to start searching GENEX Angus, Red Angus, Simmental, SimAngus™, Hereford and Charolais bulls. With the tap of your finger, you can also sort bulls by EPDs or indexes, review their pedigrees, see their photos and watch their videos. Plus, additional features will be added in the coming weeks and months!
Download the GENEX Beef app and have up-to-date EPDs at your fingertips all the time!
App Store is a service mark of Apple Inc. Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google LLC. App available for download on Windows 10 devices.
A GENEX Beef Facebook post asked beef producers for tips in planning your next timed artificial insemination (A.I.) project. Here is a sampling of the knowledge shared by seasoned A.I. veterans, grouped into seven categories.
"Timing is cricual! We make sure our shots are done exactly on time and likewise for insemination." - Emily Smith Castine
"Luck favors the prepared." - Kate Meyer
"As cool of weather as you can get. Early morning breeding, and then let them relax." - Ryan Stoecklein
"Research your bull choices and use those that you know have good conception or PregCheck™ rankings. Is it the easiest way to boost conception." - Justine Ferguson
"A good team of people to work with! Communications is key for everything to go smoothly." - Carrie Lynch
"Good body condition and good mineral program." - James Mullens
"Handle cattle and semen carefully!" - Jeff Meyer
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