AI in beef herds is cost-effective

It would be foolish to think artificial insemination is something that should only be left to the dairy guys, as suckler producer Liz Galloway found out when she starting inseminating her 390-cow herd nearly 20 years ago.

A former dairy farmer, as well a keeping some beef and sheep on a hill farm in Carmichael, south Lanarkshire, Ms Galloway knew the advantages AI had to offer.

In 1993, when the dairy unit at Lochlyoch Farm ceased production, the decision was made to take advantage of space and insemination handling facilities.

“It seemed stupid not to make use of the buildings and we were used to the AI-ing procedure for dairy cows, so we decided to give it a go on the beef side,” she says.

In fact, during the last year of dairy production, Ms Galloway started incorporating beef genetics into the dairy herd.

“We started putting Friesian cows to Limousins and we can still see some of the dairy in the herd today, with some milky cows, despite being about four or five generations away from the dairy,” she says.

Today, more than 50% of cows are Limousin crosses, with Angus also deriving from the dairy herd and Belgian Blues incorporated at a later date.

Extra space, a lack of beef bulls and the farm’s position – with no roads going through it – meant, within a year, 75% of the suckler herd was being inseminated artificially-soon moving to 100%.

And with figures like 80-85% of cows getting in calf to first service, it’s no surprise Ms Galloway has never looked back.

“If we weren’t getting the figures, we wouldn’t do it. The majority get in calf to first service and we have a tight calving pattern, with 70% calving within one month and 90% in six weeks,” she says.

It is also proving cost-effective to inseminate the 160 autumn and 230 spring calvers.

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AI-ing is not only getting the production results, but it is also proving cost-effective for suckler producer Liz Galloway.
“It is costing about £18-20 a cow depending on sires and that’s with a technician coming in every day during a three-week period, twice a year, when cows are on heat. And because we are getting more uniform calves, we often average £2/kg for bullocks and heifers weighing between 370-480kg at 11 months,” she says.

However, there’s a lot of hard work involved to get these sorts of figures, explains Ms Galloway.

“It is labour intensive and, during the two periods when cows are cycling in June and October, I observe heat on average every three hours across a three-week period. Heat detection is the biggest part of AI and getting cows at the right time is vital.”

When cows are showing signs of heat, they and their calves are moved from neighbouring fields to the farm. Cows are then inseminated by a Genus technician, who visits the farm every morning during the three week bulling periods in June and mid October.

“The cows are used to coming to the farm so they don’t get stressed, particularly because they remain with their calves,” says Ms Galloway.

Once inseminated cows are moved into different fields and put with a sweeper bull, to pick up any that have not taken.

Correct nutrition plays a major part in getting such a tight calving pattern. “The cows are not synchronised with hormones, but it’s feeding that gets good synchronisation.”

Cows are fed 1-1.5kg concentrates with silage on a rising plane of nutrition for a couple of months post insemination and then concentrates are cut back. Healthier cows also means better calvings and an increased chance of getting cows in calf first time. Any cows that haven’t been observed in heat are checked at the end of the three-week period by a vet.

Genetics selection also has a crucial role. “When it comes to selecting bulls we pick those with high EBVs and also for ease of calving, conformation and, if for replacements, we also select for milk yield.

“Ease of calving is particularly important as it means we rarely get dirty cows and have zero caesareans- both things that could hinder the compact calving period,” explains Ms Galloway.

“Ai’ing means you have access to some of the best bulls with high EBV’s and compact calving means we can sell in batches because they are more uniform in shape and by using different breeds we also get hybrid vigour.