“I would predict that only about 15-20 percent of producers in the Ozarks area take advantage of artificial insemination (AI) method of breeding,” said Bryan R. Kutz, instructor and youth specialist for the Department of Animal Science at the University of Arkansas. “A U.S. Department of Agriculture survey indicated only approximately 13 percent of producers use AI. However, that was in 2007,” he added.
Benefits of Either Method
One of the benefits of using AI, according to Kutz, is the opportunity to utilize outstanding genetics that are not available in our producer’s local area. “The ability to use germplasma from sires from around the country can help make great strides to genetically improve our beef herds.”
Additionally, AI can help provide calf crop uniformity because producers can control the breeding season with the use of estrus synchronization.
“From a selection viewpoint, one of the greatest benefits of AI is access to better genetics that would be unaffordable if purchased for a natural service bull,” said Jared Decker, assistant professor of beef genetics extension and computational genomics for the Division of Animal Sciences at the University of Missouri.
Risks of Either Method
Natural breeding methods can be less expensive than AI depending on bull purchase price. “There can be less risks with natural, however the lack of herd improvement, marketing strategies without calf crop uniformity and replacement herd productivity could out-weigh the extra expense it takes to get set up for AI implementation,” Kutz said.
Kutz noted that conception rates do vary and AI can be more of a risk. “Protocols for AI have proven to have 50 to 70 percent conception rates, however they could also be as low as 20 percent, or even lower, if poorly managed,” he added.
According to Jordan Thomas, senior research specialist for the Division of Animal Sciences at the University of Missouri, the biggest obstacle to producer adoption of AI seems to be the ‘hassle factor.’ “Carrying out an AI program requires scheduling an estrus synchronization protocol, gathering and working cattle, selecting an AI sire, etc.,” Thomas said.
The genetics of elite AI sires are more proven than natural breeding methods. “Therefore, there is more risk associated with using a natural service sire, in that we are less confident about the genetics and performance of his calves,” Thomas said.
“Although the beneficial effects of AI can be staggering, AI alone is not a magic bullet,” Thomas said. “Cattle entering an AI program will benefit from general good management. Late-calving females, females in poor body condition, and groups of females with low rates of cyclicity are particularly challenging candidates for AI programs.”
The following is a cost breakdown between the two methods presented by Decker.
“The costs between the two methods are very similar.”
In 2013, the average price of a Angus bull was $4,397. The average bull only produces 42 progeny in its lifetime. A straw of semen costs about $25 per straw and the cost per head for estrus synchronization and AI is about $20. So, we can breed 98 cows with a fixed-time AI protocol for $4,397. On average, about 54 of these will conceive to the AI sire. So, for the same cost as one bull of average genetic merit, which produces 42 calves, we can produce 54 calves from AI sires with superior genetic merit. (Dollar figures borrowed from Dave Patterson’s 2013 Thompson Farm Field Day presentation.)