A lot of people in the industry think that artificial insemination, AI breeding, is not applicable to use on small operations in the industry. It costs a good chunk of money and can be labor intensive. However, it can be a huge benefit and an advantageous resource for small beef producers. Let’s dive into why.
Right now we don’t have a very large herd, just more on the average to small side. A lot of producers with larger herds look at us using artificial insemination and they just scratch their heads. They tell us every time that it doesn’t work. That we are increasing our costs and that it’s not a very smart decision for our operation. It definitely makes us stop and think.
But we also kind of laugh every time and are just confused. Because in our minds it’s been a really huge advantage to use AI breeding. It’s something that we actually think that more small producers should think about getting into. I want to cover why it might be a great option for a small producer to use it instead of just relying on typical breeding bulls.
Better Genetics with AI Breeding
Probably the number one reason that we use AI breeding in our small beef herd is that it allows us to get better genetics without having to pay for a higher quality bull at a bull sale. Being that we have a smaller herd, every penny counts. We are able to spend about the same amount of money on our AI program that we would spend if we bought a lower quality bull every year. Using genetics give us a lot of advantages. These include calves that just get up off the ground very quickly, thrive and do extremely well. It makes our job really easy when it comes to calving. A lot of that is from using quality genetics where selection has focused on easy calving. It also shows through with pricing well at the sale barn which I’ll discuss more later.
In addition, we’re kind of partial to keeping back replacement heifers from our own herd if we can. This is so that we know what we’re getting when it comes to the genetics and the temperaments of the cattle. By using AI genetics, we know we’re keeping back quality that hopefully will translate into our females for the rest of our herd.
Higher Dollar at the Sale barn
I already touched on this, but by using better genetics in our herd we see that translate to the price of our calves at the sale barn. They look fantastic, are cohesive and sound. People look at quality when they’re at the sale barn. By having an even group of calves going in to be sold that all look phenomenal, they tend to bring a higher price. To us, every penny matters because we have such a small herd. Every penny has to stretch to cover more expenses as we grow and acquire assets. By getting a few extra dollars at the sale barn per calf, it helps make sure that we can cover any expenses that need to be covered.
Going back to the genetics, you also have a better idea as to how the calves will grow. By presenting good looking calves, you’ll start to get a reputation at your sale barn. People will know that when you bring something to the table to be sold, it’s going to be quality. As you continue to grow and develop your operation, people are going to associate your name with quality. That can help in creating productive sales. In the end it’s just a good way to help your bottom line long-term.
Less Financial Risk into Breeding Bulls
Another huge benefit to using artificial insemination is that you also have less risk into breeding bulls. This is a multifaceted concept. It’s based off of the bulls your operation purchases compared to purchasing genetics from a genetics company.
In order to have these animals available for breeding, you have to pay to keep the animals up all year long. That is a cost that I feel like some people tend to forget about. There’s feed costs, veterinary costs, yardage, etc. With AI, you don’t have to feed and water the animal or make sure that they stay in good health. It’s simply a project that takes place once a year. You pay one fee in order to get the semen and other materials.
Now, you likely will still have to have clean up bulls and pay their expenses. But you can probably have a lower number of bulls to keep up as well.
Risk in the Actual Animal Purchase
Another reduction in risk comes from not having to purchase a high quality animal to get exceptional quality offspring. High quality bulls can cost thousands and thousands of dollars. A small operation simply cannot afford to purchase a bull worth that much. They’re trying to stretch their dollars over a smaller number of cows. Smaller operations can afford to purchase a few thousand dollar animals though.
Sometimes people will purchase bulls that they have high hopes of being phenomenal breeders for their operation. And the end result can be that they aren’t very interested in breeding or that they can get sick. The bulls can also injured. Then all of the money that the operator just put into purchasing that animal or keeping that animal up is wasted. Larger operations can possibly take this hit a little easier. However, this will have a harder hit on smaller operations.
Now back to the clean up bulls you will still have to purchase. In addition to needing fewer clean up bulls around to maintain, they can also be lower quality in regards to their genetics. This is a lot less risky in regards to the initial purchase of the animal. Again, you still have the same upkeep costs. But if something were to happen to them, you don’t have as much financial risk associated with them.
Less Unknown Genetic Risk
Another huge benefit with purchasing genetics is that those bulls tend to have proven genetics. That means you have a stronger sense of security in the predicted genetics and you can trust them more than you maybe trust what you’re purchasing at your local bull sale. The local bull sale’s young animal doesn’t have proven EPD’s because he doesn’t have offspring. The offspring help to validate the EPD’s. With AI, you’re going to be a lot more secure that you should get offspring that resemble that which you purchased at a higher rate.
Again new operations are largely focused on reducing their risk and making financial gains. AI has a multifaceted reduction in risk that just can make a lot of sense.
Tighter Calving Window
AI breeding is also a huge benefit from a labor perspective. You might have to put in a little bit of extra work into your breeding. But there are ways to do timed AI that reduce the amount of labor associated with the process. The real benefit comes during calving season. By doing a timed AI, you are more likely to have a tighter calving window. Which means that you have to focus on calving out your herd for a shorter period of time.
This is really important when you have a smaller herd because the result is less pointless night checks. If you have to go out and do night checks for months at a time with no idea whether or not you’re going to have anyone calving, it takes a lot more labor and time designated to your calving season. Long story short, you get really worn out for no real reason. By us doing timed AI, we know approximately when our cows are going to calve or start calving and we also can focus our time and labor more effectively so that we don’t miss anything.
The tighter calving window also again circles back and has a great result in your sales. By having a tighter calving window, your calves are going to look more uniform in size and that’s also going to increase or help increase your price at the sale barn. And again, this is huge. You are probably still going to have a some get bred by your clean up bull but the percentage should be small. And when the cows that didn’t catch at AI come back into heat, the timing should be similar so you essentially should have two sets. You probably will still have a few stragglers, but the amount will likely be small.
So does AI breeding have a little bit of extra upfront work compared to just turning a bull out during the breeding season? Yes, it most definitely does. But I can promise that if you do things right and you purchase quality genetics, things can really work out for the better for those small operations that need to really watch their bottom lines.
AI can have different benefits for different types of producers. For the small producer looking to get started and start with quality rather than doing the slow process of working up to be able to afford quality animals, AI can be a fantastic solution. You don’t have to be large operation to purchase quality genetics.