While dairymen have used artificial insemination, or AI, profitably for decades, beef producers are starting to show more interest, and for good reasons.
“For a cow calf producer, the two biggest ways they can capitalize on AI is by using fixed time AI. They can shift the calving season earlier. So there are more calves born early in the calving season, which results in heavier weaning weights for those calves. The other thing they also can do is they are going to get some genetic advantage by using genetically superior bulls that they might not be able to afford otherwise. And then the last way they can capture some advantage to AI is in the females that they keep back,” says John Hall, Extension beef cattle specialist at the University of Idaho.
Benefits extend from ranch to feedyard and all the way through the supply chain to consumers.
“What we see is not only an increase in hot carcass weight, but we see an increase in marbling and therefore an increase in quality grade. And that's a combination of the genetic merit of the bulls we use as well as those calves being a little bit older going into the feed lot,” Hall says.
A good, basic bull for the commercial herd represents quite an investment, but quite a bit higher if you want multi-trait excellence from calving and maternal to marbling.
“Financially we're looking at what kind of bull can we afford for the ranch, and maybe we're looking at a bull in that $4,000 to $6,000 range, but that really high carcass merit bull that's also calving ease is a bull that may sell for $10,000, $12,000, $15,000 if we purchased him as a natural service sire,” he continues.
“So semen costs range from somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 to $25 for semen that we normally would use in commercial operations.”
As the demand for high quality beef keeps rising, AI might be one of the best ways to improve quickly, starting with the next calf crop.
“The American consumer is really focused on quality and not only choice but the upper two thirds of choice and even into prime. The prime portion of consumer demand has grown exponentially in the last few years. And so having those sires that are just unusual for their high marbling ability and their top 1% in the breed and you can access those types of animals through AI allows you to capture that value and meet that consumer demand,” Hall says.