Teresa Steckler, University of Illinois Extension commercial agriculture specialist, discusses breeding programs and other keys to profitability and sustainability in the changing beef industry.
Teresa Steckler, University of Illinois Extension commercial agriculture specialist, discusses breeding programs and other keys to profitability and sustainability in the changing beef industry.
UTICA, Ill. — Synchronizing cows can help cattlemen control their calving season.

“We want the cows to show estrus at a period of time, so you can breed them within a specific time,” said Teresa Steckler, University of Illinois Extension commercial agriculture specialist.

“By synchronizing, you can concentrate your labor, time when you’re going to A.I. and have them all bred at one time,” Steckler said at “The Keys to Profitability and Sustainability in a Changing Beef Industry” meeting sponsored by the U of I Extension.

“I find it astounding that A.I. has been around since the early ‘60s, but today we only have about 15 percent of our cow-calf operations using A.I,” she said. “I understand some guys don’t have the facilities, but you can synch the girls, use a bull and tighten up your calving season.”

Utilizing a synchronization program will cost some money, and every protocol behaves slightly different.

“Not every cow will respond the same,” the specialist noted. “And consider your labor and determine if you have time to heat check or if you want to A.I. all the females at once.”

The body condition score of the females is very important for these programs.

“Cows with less than 4 to 4.5 body condition score will have a 10-percent decrease in pregnancy rates, so you need to make sure your cows are in good shape.” Steckler said.

No one synchronization program is perfect for every herd.

“That’s why we’re always doing research to make them better,” she said.

A University of Kentucky study compared the value of calves from an estrus synchronization program and A.I. to a natural program.

“The percent of calving in the first 30 days is probably the most important number, and the A.I program was 85 percent versus the natural at 62 percent, or a 23-percent difference,” Steckler said. “And the weaning age is 10 days greater for the A.I calves, and that’s at least 20 pounds.”

Therefore, cattlemen can gain money by utilizing an estrus synch and A.I. program. The calf weight weaned per cow exposed was 508 pounds versus 399 pounds for the natural program.

“If you have 109 additional pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed, at $1.45 per pound, that’s an additional $158,” Steckler said. “Minus $16 for the cost of A.I., that’s $142 of added value.”

Cattlemen have several options for using A.I. — heat detection, heat detection and timed A.I. or timed A.I.

“I hate heat detecting, so I like timed A.I., but there’s several things you need to take into consideration,” Steckler said. “It depends on your goals. A CO-Synch plus a CIDR will cost $23 to $27, but you can do one shot of prostaglandin and watch for estrous, and that’s $2.50 to $3.”

Timed A.I. programs are advantageous because they reduce the cost of labor and cattlemen can manage animals in groups instead of individually.

“Don’t use a cow protocol for heifers, and don’t use a heifer protocol for cows because there is a big difference in the timing,” she said.

“The Ovsynch program is not used in the beef industry very much. It is primarily a dairy program.

“The CO-Synch seven-day program plus CIDR is probably the most widely used program in the beef industry, and it works very well,” Steckler said.

“I like the five-day CO-Synch plus CIDR. “I’ve been working with a producer in southern Illinois, and he achieved a 75-percent pregnancy rate on 3 year olds two years in a row.”

Research shows using a CO-Synch program when cows have a 4.5 or less body condition score results in a 30-percent pregnancy rate; from 4.5 to 5 score, a 41-percent rate; and 5.5 or greater, pregnancy rates of 59 percent.

“That’s a 29-percent difference in the A.I. conception rate. We can’t afford that kind of loss,” Steckler said.

There are two major differences between a five-day and seven-day CO-Synch program.

“The CIDR is only left in five days, but you have to run the females through the chute twice for the second prostaglandin shot,” Steckler explained.

“I took a guy in southern Illinois with a 62-cow herd from a 90-day calving season to a 60-day the first year. The second year, it was down to 55 days, and third year a 45-day calving season, with one shot of prostaglandin and a bull.”

For natural breeding, Steckler recommends one mature bull for every 25 to 30 cows.

“We run three sets of two bulls, and we leave them in with the cows for no more than two weeks at a time,” she said. “We use one young bull and one old bull, and the bulls always have a two-week rest interval.”

Steckler provided data from a Virginia herd that included 640 cows that had spring and fall calving.

“This herd was synchronized, and they used A.I. for multiple generations. The calf crop was retained through harvest, only A.I.-sired heifers are maintained as replacements and cleanup bulls have excellent (Expected Progeny Differences), but low accuracies,” she said.

The farm used the Ovsynch protocol and divided the herd into four groups — A.I. sired crossed with A.I. sired dam, A.I. sired crossed with non-A.I. sired dam, natural sired crossed with A.I. sired dam and natural sired crossed with non-A.I. sired dam.

“The things that really stand out to me are the calves that were natural sired and crossed with non-A.I. sired dam were on feed 189 days and 61 percent graded choice versus the calves that were A.I. sired and crossed with A.I. sired dam were on feed 170 days and 97 percent graded choice,” the specialist said. “If you’re paid on the grid, that’s quite a bit of difference — $797 versus $972 per calf.”

In addition, A.I. sired calves born to dams that were products of A.I. returned 22 percent more to the ranch in calf value compared to natural service calves from nature service dams, Steckler added.