FOCUS ON GOOD MANAGEMENT OF A.I. PROGRAMS

by: Dr. Richard M. Hopper
DVM


The use of artificial insemination in beef cow operations has never reached anywhere near the acceptance of that of the dairy industry. The reasons for this bear discussion as they typically relate to many of the problems we encounter with A.I. in beef herds. In turn, understanding these problems should provide a starting point for outlining management steps that will hopefully prevent many these problems before they occur. Also there are beef cattle management practices that are important components of any operation but become especially crucial in an A.I. program. You should be made aware of this prior to the initiation of an A.I. program. I feel that the best way to approach the problems inherent in beef cow A.I. and your possible management deficiencies is to completely evaluate your beef cattle operation. Secondly, you should fully understand your objectives for and expectations of an A.I. program. This can be crucial because many of the "problems" encountered in beef cattle A.I. programs are actually the result of unrealistic expectations. It is important to take a pro-active approach so that problems can be avoided. Even then it is still realistic to expect that we will still encounter problems.

Evaluation of management practices crucial to A.I. program success

When called in as a veterinarian to evaluate an AI program, I always began with an inspection of the animals to be included in the program and the facilities. This allowed me to get a feel for such things as body condition, calving status, temperament, and to question the producer in a casual way about his management. The primary advantage to this "on-the-farm" evaluation was that it allowed me to see if what the producer said about his management and facilities was congruent with reality.

A checklist is not totally applicable as many areas are not mutually exclusive of each other arid are in fact very inter-dependant. A perfect example is the inter-relationship between body condition, nutrition, age of the calves, and the post partum interval to first estrus. However with that disclaimer in mind I will proceed to offer a checklist that you might utilize as a guideline. Hopefully it will also provide you with some "reminders" relating to areas you should be familiar with but will often overlook during the "heat" (sorry for the pun) of this busy time.

Facilities

• Catch pens should be located in an area that is shady, away from stressful areas (busy highway, noisy machinery, etc.) and easy to move cattle into.

• These pens should be large enough that cattle can be fed in them. This facilitates patterning of the cattle. Getting the cattle up is crucial especially since most synchronization programs require that the cattle be handled several times.

• The chute should be covered if possible.

• A headgate is not required, but it must be easy to move cattle out of the trap, and they should be restrained enough to facilitate safe & easy palpation/A. I.

• A design that minimizes personnel needs is obviously beneficial as well.

Handling

• NO DOGS, NO HOTSHOTS, NO STICKS allowed. Stress is not compatible with good conception rates.

• Cattle that are ill mannered might be caught the night before.

• Handle cattle during the cool part of the day.

Synchronization Program

• This is could serve as an entire topic, but basically it is crucial that you choose a program that fits your management not merely follow the latest "fad" synch program.

• Remember any compromises made with respect to completely following all directions can ruin the results.

A.I. Technician

The inseminator may be a professional A.I. technician, a neighbor, your veterinarian, or you. It is important that the availability and ability of that individual is established prior to setting up the program. If the individual is a novice and plans to synchronize a large number (anything over 10-15 head is a lot in this situation) of cattle, I suggest that someone experienced handle the "timed" or appointment breeding and that the novice breed (actually it will be a "double" mating) the outliers. Approximately 8-30% of the cattle in most synchronization programs will come in before or after the predicted time. Doing this will provide the producer experience and will usually increase conception rates since these cattle will be bred twice.

Semen Handling

This information is detailed in several texts as well as A.I. management manuals. Also A.I. training materials cover these issues in-depth. Simply knowing the right way to handle semen is not enough. You must follow proper guidelines with no exceptions or shortcuts.

Heat Detection

Heat detection is obviously important when A.I. is utilized without an estrus synchronization program. But good heat detection will also enhance the results with "timed" or appointment A.I. It will allow you to rebreed outliers and get a more accurate feel for response to your synchronization program. To do a good job someone needs to spend 30-45 minutes twice daily observing the cows, typically morning and evening. Synchronization positively affects heat detection efficiency because more females are in heat at one time and so more likely to be demonstrative. One shy, estral heifer standing off by herself is like the proverbial "tree falling in the forest with no one around." If estrus synchronization is not utilized a gomer bull becomes invaluable. Although many people prefer androgenized cows I prefer surgically altered bulls. These fellows have two main advantages over the androgenized cows. They produce their own supply of testosterone, so mounting behavior doesn't ebb and flow based on half-life of a hormonal implant injection. Also gomer bulls will herd and separate females from the herd 12-24 hours prior to estrus. This will allow you to watch those individuals closer the next day. While on the subject of gomer bulls it is my opinion that while much has been written on different techniques for surgically preparing these bulls the biggest criteria for success is in selection of the bull. The Jersey is the best choice. They are relatively in-expensive to purchase and maintain a very high libido for several years. Also, you can usually purchase a 400 lb. Jersey bull and have your veterinarian perform the surgery for less than the cost of a beef calf. The Jersey will go into service sooner after surgery as well.

Vaccination program

Review your health program. Also, do not vaccinate at the same time cattle are worked for synchronization treatments. Also remember A.I. is only a disease control tool for Vibrio (Camplobacter) and Trichomoniasis if those agents are not in the semen. So, the source of your semen is important.

Expectations

Do you expect 60-70 percent pregnancy rates with a single timed breeding? And this in a herd that had a “flat” calving distribution curve for last year's calving season. Do you have realistic expectations about the quality of the A.I. sired calves?

Figuring out "what went wrong?"

In most A.I. training schools or A.I. manuals the producer (student) is introduced to the "Equation of Reproduction." This "equation" is not only simple and something the producer is already familiar with, but also serves as a good way for us to approach a problem.

This equation was probably used to remind the producer that the pregnancy % results from the multiple of and not sum or average of 4 variable and independent factors (A x B x C x D = % pregnancy). The factors these letters represent are: A = females detected in heat and inseminated, B = herd fertility, C = semen fertility, D = inseminator efficiency. As you know each of these factors has sub-factors, so for us they serve to help us compartmentalize our approach.

Females detected in heat and inseminated

Evaluate: Synchronization program

• Heat detection

• Body condition score *

• Post-partum interval *

• Incidence of Peri-parturient problems, i.e. Dystocia, Retained placenta, etc *

• Facilities

• If heifers, Reproductive tract exam, size, breed type *

* These are components of herd fertility factor as well

Herd fertility

Evaluate: Sub-factors already listed in factor A

• Herd health program, specifically vaccination program as it relates to pathogens that impact reproductive efficiency. This encompasses quality assurance issues i.e. vaccine handling etc. As well as mineral supplementation

Semen fertility

Evaluate: Semen storage and handling

• Semen -- adequate post thaw motility? Adequate numbers? *

It is usually worthwhile to have your veterinarian evaluate a straw. This is different from a routine BSE, so if they are uncomfortable performing an evaluation on frozen semen, you can have them send it to us.

Inseminator efficiency

Evaluate: Semen/ instrument handling

• Right vs. left horn pregnancy rates.

• Fatigue -- Does pregnancy rate fall after first 10 or 40 cows inseminated? This is not a perfect scheme, but as stated earlier those who have attended A.I. short courses are generally aware of the "equation of fertility" and it helps us break things down so that we can "pin-point" problems and it also illustrates how certain components of the equation effect more than one factor. Thus body condition, which can impact both heat expression and conception, affects our results exponentially. From a diagnostic aspect it provides us with an easy guide that points out three to four areas that might be potential problems. Unless the entire project was a shambles, the most likely suspects are low herd fertility (usually due to low body condition scores, too short of a post partum interval for wet cows, deficiencies in heifer development, or a combination), technician inadequacies, or problems due to the semen (either due to handling and storage or the quality of the frozen semen).







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