Cost study shows benefits of AI over natural service

Artificial insemination in commercial cattle may be one way to increase productivity in the cow-calf operation and in the national herd.

Kathy Larson, a beef economist with the Western Beef Development Centre (WBDC), outlined that potential in a recent webinar organized by the centre.

“I think it’s important to note that we have a national beef strategy,” said Larson.

“There’s several targets and pillars within that strategy, and one of them is to increase production efficiency by 15 percent by the year 2020. And within that strategy, to achieve that target, increased uptake of AI by commercial producers was mentioned as one way to reach the target.”

Only 18 percent of producers who responded to last year’s cow-calf survey use artificial insemination, she said.

Larson provided a cost comparison example between natural service and fixed time artificial insemination, which allows producers to adjust cow heat cycles for proper timing of insemination.

“The cost of fixed time AI is actually not that much higher than natural service. If you’re paying $7,500 or more for a bull … it was really only $10 more to go the way of fixed time AI,” Larson said about her example.

“The partial budget analysis for our one-year demonstration had over $10,250 net change to profit.”

The findings were based on a one-year demonstration at the WBDC’s Termuende research facility.

The cost of natural service compared to fixed time artificial insemination will be different for every operation and will change with the economy.

For example, if a herd sire costs $4,500 and is used for four years and then sold at 2,000 pounds for 80 cents per lb., it would return $1,600 to the purchaser.

“I fully realize that prices are quite a bit higher than that right now, but I don’t know where they’re going to be four years out, and if I look four years back, 80 cents a pound is a pretty good price,” she said.

The bull’s value depreciates every year. During that time, there are costs for feed, yardage, labour and semen tests, plus the risk of loss because of lameness, illness or some other factor.

In the WBDC demonstration study, Larson worked the numbers assuming a $7,560 purchase price for the bull and compared those costs to fixed time artificial insemination.

The study involved 40 cows bred by natural service and 40 that were artificially inseminated.

The artificial insemination costs worked out to $130 per cow, or $10 more than the costs of bull service.

However, pregnancy rates, calving rates and birth weights were higher for the artificially inseminated cows and they produced 4,170 more pounds of calf at weaning.

Larson’s partial budget analysis on fixed time artificial insemination showed increased costs of $3,305 but increased revenues of $11,250.

Dr. Colin Palmer, a veterinarian and associate professor at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, said technical considerations are the most common reason he hears from producers who avoid artificial insemination.

The need for semen tanks, proper thawing, training in artificial insemination or paying a technician to do it can be daunting, said Palmer.

There is also the need for accurate heat detection so that cattle can be bred at the proper time. Detection can be tricky and time consuming, which also discourages producers, Palmer added.

That issue can be addressed through fixed time artificial insemination methods, which use estrus synchronization. That way, producers can choose the timing that works best for them.

“That’s one of the wonderful things about it,” said Palmer.

The WDBC study shows the costs of fixed time artificial insemination can be comparable to natural service with the added potential benefit of better genetics in the offspring.

A fact sheet on the study can be found at bit.ly/1PO2VXv.

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