Synchronisation and AI in favour
Lack of bull power due to
restrictions is posing
problems for some suckler
producers. But heat
synchronisation and AI,
although labour intensive,
may provide an alternative.
Marianne Curtis reports
HEAT synchronisation and AI can be labour intensive, making it a tricky option for suckler producers. But adequate planning and good handling facilities are allowing producers in F&M-infected areas to take advantage of this technique.
Double AI on two consecutive days is commonly practised in heat synchronisation programmes. But in infected areas, a MAFF licence must be obtained to allow this to happen, otherwise there must be a period of seven days between inseminators visits, says SAC beef specialist Basil Lowman.
"As it takes up to five working days to obtain such a licence, planning ahead is vital. Heat synchronisation and AI require a team approach between stockperson, vet and inseminator. All three must work together, otherwise it can be a disaster."
Most synchronisation programmes take two weeks, so the vet and inseminator should be contacted at the same time, he says. "There are several products available for synchronisation which vets will be able to advise on. AI companies will be able to supply information on bulls such as Estimated Breeding Values."
As well as planning ahead on the procedure, familiarising cows with handling is also a must, says Mr Lowman. "With the SAC herd, cows are grazed in fields close to buildings for the synchronisation period. About a week before handling, we erect a wire fence near the field gate to funnel cows towards it. They are offered some barley in this area, from a few days before handling, to get them used to coming towards the gate."
One way of avoiding having to gather cows is to calve in autumn, so synchronisation can be carried out during the housing period. This is what happens at Grahamslaw Farm, Kelso, run by Neil Stewart.
"Success depends on keeping cows as quiet as possible," he says. "Some producers manage synchronisation during summer, but I do not relish the prospect of chasing cows round the field for two to three hours each time they need to be brought in."
Cows must be handled at least four or five times, depending on the drugs used for synchronisation and whether single or double AI is chosen.
Mr Stewart uses progesterone releasing devices (CIDRs) which are inserted on day one of the programme. On day eight, cows receive a prostaglandin injection and CIDRs are removed on day 10. Cows are AId on days 12 and 13.
"We used to AI once, but now double AI to cover ourselves. Cows are not robots.
"Conception rates average 60% to the first double AI, but we also re-insert CIDRs on day 28, removing them on day 33. Cows are then observed and those returning to season are inseminated twice again. Sweeper bulls are used for cows returning a second time."
Total synchronisation and AI costs are £27-£28 a cow, says Mr Stewart. "Bulls can work out at about £30 a cow and are horrible animals to keep, wrecking gates and fences. They have nothing to do for months and tend to go lame when they are needed."
He advises producers trying the method for the first time to be organised and have good stock-handling facilities, working under cover where possible.
Forced into a major herd synchronisation programme for the first time because of F&M is David Drysdale, who manages Gellesbi Farms, Lockerbie. Stock on one of the estates farms, where most bulls were being wintered, was slaughtered in a contiguous cull. "We lost six out of nine bulls destined for use on our 240-cow herd," he says.
This left a problem with getting cows back in calf for the Blue Grey/Simmental herd which was based at another farm and escaped the cull.
"Being in an infected area meant that until a couple of weeks ago, we faced the prospect of DIY AI, with one of our stockmen having a certificate," says Mr Drysdale.
"Recently, however, restrictions relaxed a little, meaning technicians could come on farm with a licence."
To begin calving the herd in early March, Mr Drysdale embarked on a synchronisation programme, inseminating the first batch of 120 cows on May 24 and 25.
"This was the maximum number we could cope with at a time and further batches of 80 and 60 have been synchronised since."
Because cows were on the hill, gathering was time-consuming and labour-intensive, he says.
"It has involved a lot of work. For convenience, we kept cows on in bye land for AI. However, as we normally use this for forage, we may find ourselves running short over winter."
Movement restrictions on crossing roads have also compounded the problems, but Mr Drysdale believes synchronisation was the only option in the circumstances.
"Before this year, I believed synchronisation was impossible for such a large number of cows, but we have managed it. However, we must wait to see conception rates before judging whether it has been successful or not.
"If we achieve a 60% conception rate, I will be delighted. The alternative would have been large numbers of barren cows."
As to whether he will use the technique in future, Mr Drysdale is uncertain.
"It should give better quality cows and we may consider it for part of the herd in future, if conception rates are good." *
Lack of bull power means more suckler producers are undertaking synchronisation and AI programmes this year. But planning ahead is vital to synchronisation success, says Basil Lowman.
• Solves F&M bull problems.
• Be organised.
• Prepare cows for handling.