11 February 2000

Pregnancy costs slashed with AI

By Bob Davies

USING AI in a suckler herd can cut costs and significantly boost sales income, according to one Welsh beef producer and the AI company hes using.

Gareth Owen, who has not run a bull at Fron Farm, Talerddig, for two years, believes the benefits of access to a wide selection of high index sires though AI use far outweigh the extra labour involved.

"There is a problem spotting bulling cows when days shorten and we are thinking of using a sweeper bull between September and housing to keep calving index tight," he told 80 producers attending a meeting sponsored by Genus and Wynnstay and Clwyd Farmers.

"Extra work is involved, but one of the two daily visits we make to cows on the hill would occur even if a bull was running with them."

Though there were some problems last year, only 1.6 services were needed/cow. Given this return rate, an average semen price of £7.50/insemination and the £8.75 call out charge, the average cost totalled £26/live calf, excluding any special offer discounts and other reductions.

Neil Wharton, Genuss beef development manager, said this must be compared with the cost of natural service using a good quality sire, for which Mr Owen would have paid about £4200 at Perth last year. The bull could be expected to sire 40 calves/year over four seasons.

A conservative estimate of running costs would be £500/bull/year, he said, adding that assuming interest on borrowed money at a modest 5% and a cull value of £320, each live calf would carry a sire charge of about £42.

"So AI can bring a saving of £16/calf, but there can be many other benefits. Instead of being restricted to using just two or three stock bulls on his 100 sucklers he has the flexibility of being able to choose from a large number of top ranked sires from different breeds.

"Mr Owen can also use calving data to ensure he is not using a bull whose size and physique will wreck heifers."

If feeding and overall management were good enough to exploit the genetic merits of sires available, using AI could provide better conformation and faster growing progeny. Pushing up the finished weight of a steer by 30kg, or seeing it go to slaughter 30 days earlier could have a significant impact on herd margin, said Mr Wharton.

At Fron Farm, Charolais semen is used on mature sucklers and a small number of pedigree Charolais cows, while easy calving Limousin sires are selected for heifers. Calving is spilt between May and mid August. This means quite a few females have to be served when grazing land lying above the 300m (1000ft) contour, and special handling pens have been erected for inseminating.

Both suckled calves and finished cattle are sold. The aim is to use EBV figures available on bulls standing at AI to produce superior quality stock that command premium prices. &#42

BEEFAI

&#8226 Cheaper than a bull.

&#8226 More hassle involved.

&#8226 Access to high quality sires.

Gareth Owen reckons the average cost of achieving a pregnancy is £26.