When top executives from many different walks of life decide to call it quits, the company often grooms a successor so the transition is smooth. From one season to the next, major league baseball teams prepare future stars in the minor leagues so the team is positioned for success.
Cattlemen often employ new management practices without preparing the herd to take advantage of the benefits this protocol has to offer. Consequently, the transformation is in turmoil and many dollars are lost due to lack of forward thinking.
Given the research done by land grant universities and the drive of the industry to improve, management alternatives are available to cattlemen today that might not have been practical before. The key to utilizing cost effective options is to prepare the cowherd.
Tools are available to increase profit, but none more practical than the use of artificial insemination (A.I). Cows do not become safe in calf just by waving a straw of semen and saying a few magic words. It is a time consuming step by step procedure that begins with forward planning to see it through.
"I like to sort my cows into 21day calving intervals before I start my A.I. program, cows that calve between March 1 and March 21 and cows that calve between March 22 and April 11," said Steve Spear, Shelton Ranch, Greenville, Texas. "Cows that calve after this date are evaluated on an individual basis to see if they fit the program."
"We operate a rotational grazing system and cows that are 45 days postpartum will be separated into a different cell. We breed groups of 250 head per cell," said Dr. Artemio Garza Flores, Lucero Ranch, Tamps, Mexico.
Nutrition is a key component to the process. Cattle should be evaluated from several different angles before the process begins. Energy and protein levels are important; however, a good mineral program, which is sometimes overlooked, could make the difference.
"Nutrition is pretty critical. At 45 to 60 days postpartum, I like t see cows with a body condition score (BCS) of at least 5, preferably 6," said Dr. Joe Paschal, Tecolote Creek Ranch Genetics. "Phosphorus is the most important mineral and I like to have it out 30 days before I attempt A.I. Copper is important for follicle development, while zinc and selenium will boost immune response.
Getting females in the proper BCS could require a little extra management, depending on environment and resources available. Rations should be developed that will allow cattle to reach adequate BCS in short periods of time. Some synchronization programs will help, not only to facilitate cycling, but also from a nutritional standpoint.
"Both cows and heifers need to be maintained on an inclining plane of nutrition during the breeding season. I like to put cows on a high fat ration because it is more easily metabolized and will help improve BCS quickly. The fat will also help increase the size of the follicle," Paschal said. "If cows are in good BCS, are on good pasture with high quality hay, producers can save money because the cows should respond well to A.I."
"We A.I. 1,500 head annually. All our cows are on open range in the rotational grazing system," Garza said. "There are occasions we have to supplement due to forage quality, but it is in small amounts, mainly with first calf heifers and growing animals."
"The good thing about using MGA to synchronize our heifers, it has to be fed in a mixed ration," Spear said. "In addition to synchronizing these heifers, we are flushing them out. It works really well in dry years when wheat pasture is limited."
Minerals, as stated before, are an important part of the feed program when preparing cattle for A.I. A complete herd health program helps promote success.
"Minerals are the most expensive part of the feeding program. I like a loose mineral with moderate salt content. To avoid luxury consumption, I will put out mineral that group needs for a week, then come back the next week and put out mineral again," Paschal said.
"An up to date vaccination program is also critical. I like for cows to have a brucellosis and lepto vibrio vaccination prior to breeding. BVD PI3 is helpful, but not as critical. These things may only add a few percentage points to conception rates, but it all adds up in the reproduction equation."
Virgin heifers, which are usually the most practical to A.I. in most operations, are a different beast and require a little more management to ensure conception rates. After all, these future pieces of the breeding program are an expensive commodity until they start raising calves. Certain precautions need to be taken before they are considered viable candidates.
"Heifers should be palpated at a certain time in their development and given a tract score. Tract scores are rated 1 to 5, and I like for heifers to have a tract score three or higher," Paschal said. "Heifers with a tract score of 4 or 5 are very likely to settle with the first service and we can work with a 3."
"We feed MGA for 14 days then give heifers a shot of Lutalyse in 17 to 19 days and A.I. them one time," Spear said. "If a heifer doesn't respond we'll give her another shot of Lutalyse to try and get her to cycle."
Synchronization programs more adequately help distribute labor and increase the amount of cows bred in a short period of time. There are many of these protocols available and each should be evaluated to see which one works best for individual producers. Dividends will be paid up and down the chain when cattle are bred at the same time.
"I have to use A.I. in a costeffective manner. I have to keep cows up and supplement them and allocate labor for heat checking. A small time frame works best for me," Spear said. "Synchronization allows for better time management and I can match my breeding season to the growth curve of the grasses in our area. When I am trying to breed the cows, the most nutrition is available in the fescue and ryegrass."
"With the cost of estrus synchronization programs, most cattlemen are looking to increase conception rates on the first service," Paschal said. "Some folks like to breed only once, others will breed a second time in 17 to 20 days, which could increase conception through A.I. to 60 or 70 percent on two services. This will decrease the cost of the A.I. program.
"Once synchronized, the cattle will cycle at the same time which will provide benefits even if they are turned with a bull after the first service."
The debate most cattlemen have with synchronization is to time breed or detect natural heats. Both methods have proven successful in research scenarios; however, cattlemen adapt management to available labor, time and whichever method they are more comfortable with.
"Cattlemen need to check heats using an a.m p.m. schedule or some sort of variation. This is very time consuming and some sort of visual system like a K Mar or chalk will help producers check heats and allow for better conception," Paschal said. "I like to check heats early in the morning then at night, but I will also check them at 10 or 11 p.m. to see if I can stimulate activity. The same person (or someone cows are used to) should chick heats every time for best response.
"Timed insemination works fine, but you may decrease first service conception. With large groups of cows, timed insemination will save money, but small producers should observe heats to get the most out of it."
"I want as many bred as tight as possible. I use heat detectors on my heifers to help find heats. You are too far either side of the optimum breeding time when you use timed breeding," Spear said. "I breed the cows on observed heat after synchronizing them with the two shot method."
Depending on production goals, some outfits do not use heat synchronization and still are very successful with A.I. Lucero Ranch breeds year round, not only to meet consumer demands, but to help manage large numbers.
"We heat check in the cells twice a day (morning and night) and then breed cows at the center of the cell with portable sheds. One employee checks heat and breeds each group," Garza said. "We try to produce the same number of calves every month throughout the year. Cows are bred to maintain a 12 month calving interval in each group. Producers need to consider the reproductive habits of their cows when planning an A.I. program. There is a slight difference in managing Bos
indicus vs. Bos taurus. Knowing these slight differences can improve conception rates.
"Bos indicus cattle don't come into heat as strongly as Bos taurus cattle. The hormone profile is briefer and not as strong," Paschal said. "Sometimes you have to look for other signs a cow is in heat because they might not always mount, but the signs are there.
"If you are time breeding there is a slight difference in the time frame for Bos
indicus cattle. Success with timed insemination depends on the best time to put the semen in a cow, which is usually 66 hours for Bos
taurus and 72 to 80 hours for Bos indicus."
A.I. is a long term process. The first year often gives little indication of the benefit A.I. brings. The more cattlemen use . A.I. the better they get at preparing cattle for breeding season, selecting sires that work and eliminating the problem breeders from the herd. Record keeping is vital with A.I. Not only will it tell producers when it is time to perform management techniques, it will also track progress.
"Not every heifer you select as a replacement is going to work. We manage two and three year olds separately to sort out problem cows and by the time they are 4 year olds we know what we have," Spear said. "Since '92, we have seen an easy 10 percent improvement in conception rates through short season A.I., improved quality and increased weaning weights by 60 to 70 lbs."
"When we started A.I. in the late '80s we had 33 percent conception and 47 percent were bull bred for a total of 80 percent," Garza said. "The turning point came in 2004, we had a total conception of 87 percent and 86 percent was through A.I. so we eliminated clean up bulls. In '05, we had 84 percent conception rate through A.I."
Lucero Ranch inseminates each cow twice and averages breeding eight cows per day throughout the year.
When producers reach into their toolbox to find something that will help increase profits, a straw of semen, properly inseminated, can provide major benefits. Cattle become easier to manage, genetic goals are reached and when success is achieved, it becomes a vital part of the operation.
"A tighter group of calves means they are bunched nutritionally as far as their needs. These cattle become easier to manage and there is less over or under feeding to meet the needs of the lactating cow," Spear said. "A tight calving season allows me to have a better package of calves sell if they don't fit the program and I can create a group of half brothers for my bull buyers. Not to mention, I can use bulls that I couldn't afford to buy."
"Physical and genetic uniformity is very important. If you have a 90 day calving season, there could be a 150 lb. difference between the first and last calf born. Those cattle require a lot different management and marketing," Paschal said. "If you have a lot of calves born the first seven to 10 days of calving season, it creates more options."
"We sell 85 percent of our bulls as seedstock through government programs in our country," Garza said. "Without A.I. we wouldn't have access to some of the top bulls in the Beefmaster breed and we couldn't sell our bulls through these programs because competition is very high between breeds. We sell bulls because of the uniformity and quality we get through A.I."
Management is not only helped through groups of uniform genetically similar cattle, but benefit packages associated with the use of A.I. also bring positives to the bottom line. Decreasing herd bull numbers, for a variety of reasons, can help the bottom line.
"I can decrease the number of clean up bulls by half and put females back into the herd with the performance and carcass traits at a reduced cost through A.I.," Spear said. "I can produce the kind of cattle I want in a cost effective manner."
"A.I. has helped improve the fertility of the cowherd. Total conception rates were 10 percent lower when we started," Garza says. "Due to our environment (tick zone), the bulls we bought in the early '80s had considerable health problems, like anaplas and piroplasma, that resulted in having less pregnant cows."
Whether it is a corporate firm trying to hold its profit margin or a sports team looking to maintain performance level, successors have to be groomed to carry on the tradition. Cattlemen are in the same situation; it all boils down to dollars and sense.
Each new management practice thrown into the production scenario is only deemed successful if goals are met and profit is reached. To achieve desired results, the herd must be adequately prepared, production goals defined and protocol followed. If these factors all fit, rewards will be inevitable; however, one mistake and it's back to the drawing board.
"Cattle breeding is a business, and we manage our ranch like any other company, every procedure is justified by cost benefit," Garza said. "In Mexico, there are not a lot of breeders who can warranty their genetics and we do, thanks to A.I. It is one of the most profitable tools we can use and makes us different from our competition."
"All the pieces have to fit in the management program and it starts when that heifer is selected to go into the herd," Spear said. "Through the use of A.I., in the end you get better cattle, improve management and increase efficiency."
"Success depends on nutrition, heat checking and actual insemination. When you spend $15 or $20 per head to set up an A.I. program, most producers fail at heat checking, because they don't spend enough time doing it," Paschal said. "Any program that will shave 30 days off a calving season should increase weaning weights by 45 lbs. Not only will you have better cattle, you'll get rewarded for it, and there are not many things that provide a return in the cattle business today."