DIY Artificial Insemination
From 2017 to March 2020, AHDB Beef & Lamb provided 50% funding towards DIY artificial insemination (AI) courses for suckler producers with over 30 breeding females. The funding has now ended, so we have caught up with some of those who took the course to find out how they are getting on.
There are many ways artificial insemination (AI) can benefit beef producers. One of the main advantages is it allows producers with suckler herds to access high genetic merit sires with desired estimated breeding values (EBVs) that suit the herd’s breeding programme. This allows high rates of genetic improvement to be achieved. High genetic merit stock bulls can often be expensive to purchase, so purchasing semen instead can be a more affordable option. Sires can also be selected for different groups of females; for example, one bull for the heifers, a second to produce heifer replacements and a third to produce calves with superior carcase traits for the beef market.
Sweeper bulls are sometimes required, but AI can potentially reduce the need to keep bulls on the farm. This can be an attractive incentive because the maintenance cost for a bull can be around £45 per calf born, in addition to the purchase cost, which for top bulls may be prohibitive. AI also avoids the potential health risks associated with using natural service.
The choice of bull for the females being served is vital. It is important to check the EBV for calving ease (direct), as this indicates how easily a calf sired by a particular bull will be born. Herd management should aim to reduce the risk of calving difficulties because they have a negative effect on subsequent cow fertility and calf performance. Many other EBVs are available to help producers select bulls that will produce progeny to fit the farm’s requirements and complement the females in the herd.
WHY USE AI?
• Improve the genetics of your herd
• Use bulls with proven performance
• Tailor the breeding of your herd by selecting for maternal or terminal traits
• Speed up genetic progress of your breeding females with sexed semen
• Reduce the need to keep as many bulls on farm
North Lincolnshire based Gavin Ogg did the course in November 2017. He has a suckler herd of Pedigree Limousin cattle consisting of 80 breeding females. After using an AI technician for several years, he took the opportunity to do the AHDB subsidised AI course in November 2017. Gavin said: “I had looked into doing the course before, but it was so expensive, so when I saw it at a reduced cost, I was really pleased to give it a go. For a three-day course, the trainer was able to cover so much, and I got a real understanding of the whole reproductive system and how AI worked at its best. When I went to try it myself at home, I had a few that did not hold at first, but once I got more used to it, we had some good conception rates. I still work alongside a technician who helps me to synchronise the heifers and then I tend to AI the cows and the technician helps to AI some of the trickier heifers. It was a really good feeling when the first calves arrived that I had AI’d. The process also gives you more control to select for specific traits, such as ease of calving, which is something we have been aiming for.”
Sophie did the course in August 2018. She has a herd of 60 Devon x Hereford suckler cows which she farms at home in Devon. She took the AHDB subsidised AI course in August 2018 so that she would be able to help out more on the farm and share the responsibility, especially during busy times such as silaging when staffing can be stretched. Sophie said: “The course was very beneficial, and I got a real understanding of how AI worked as well as being able to have a go and get a feel for it in the practical sessions. When I had a go back home it seemed more difficult at first, but the more I did it, the better I got. We haven’t used AI to select for specific traits yet, but we would like to get some more of the Salers breed into the herd as they will help with calving ease.”
Leona, who did the course in October 2019, runs a small holding in North Lincolnshire where she has a small herd of Pedigree Simmental cattle as well as helping a neighbouring suckler farmer when required. She took the AHDB subsidised AI course in October 2019 after being recommended by a friend to study at Bishopton Vets. Leona said: “I was wanting to use AI because it was very expensive to run a bull for my small herd, and learning how to do it myself has proved much more cost-effective, plus I have always been interested in genetics and AI gives me the opportunity to match the different bulls to my females based on EBVs. The course was really in depth with day one being all about the theory and then day two and three giving us the chance to try it out for ourselves. I have now served my cows myself in March this year and they all held at first which was reassuring, however, one then lost it so I had to re-serve a couple of weeks ago. It is quite different when you try it at home for the first time, but I have also been practising on other nearby farms so I can keep my hand in. I also used sexed semen on the cows to breed some replacement heifers to keep the herd going.”
George Burrell farms 200 cattle in Alnwick, Northumberland and attended an AHDB funded DIY AI course in April 2018 with Bishopton Veterinary Group in Ripon. Last breeding season he used a synchronisation programme to AI 30 cows with a conception rate of 80%. He opted to use AI to save on bull costs and to keep the herd closed to help minimise disease. He also saw it as a way to improve the genetics of his herd and bring in new blood lines.
In March 2017, we ran a webinar on the benefits of using AI in the suckler herd. You can watch again below.