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Benefits of AI in the Suckler Herd

In contrast to dairy farmers, suckler enterprises have been slow to adopt A.I. as a routine way of breeding cows. The often quoted explanation for not doing so is that suckler cows at grass can be difficult to see in season, and getting them in for service can be a problem.  However, is this sufficient reason to forego the potential benefits offered by A.I.?

Access to Superior Sires

A.I. companies make it their business to secure bulls of the highest breeding value from all breeds, often at considerable expense.  Suckler farms using A.I. can access sires with reliable information on all of the important traits, such as ease of calving, superior growth rates, and potential milking capacity of replacement heifers.  A suitable sire from a range of breeds can be identified for every cow in the herd.

Semen Quality

Every ejaculate of semen processed in an A.I. Collection Unit is subject to rigorous quality assessment.  Inseminated cows receive consistent high quality semen when doses have been handled and deposited properly.  In contrast, it has been confirmed that between 18-25% of beef sires exhibit either permanent or temporary periods of sub/infertility.

Disease Control

Another significant potential benefit to the farmer who wishes to reduce the likelihood of disease spreading in his stock is the assurance that A.I. sires are routinely screened for all of the significant infections.  All too often, ‘closed herds’ can trace the emergence of disease to purchase of a stock bull.

Cost

The majority of stock bulls sold in Northern Ireland cost between £2000 - £4000.  Many, after 30 months have to be discarded to avoid mating with daughters.  Residual value:  cull price.

The annual cost of maintenance and depreciation for a stock bull is high.  Dividing this value by the number of calves born in the course of a year almost always results in a cost far greater than that for an insemination with a proven superior sire.

Management

A.I. allows the use of batch breeding.  It is particularly suited for groups of replacement heifers.  These can be mated to ensure most calve within a three week period at the beginning of the herd calving pattern.  An easy calving sire can be selected and such animals are then likely to be around for future years birthing at the optimal time.

A.I. requires heat detection.  This, by definition, means that the breeding performance of every animal is monitored and recorded.  Repeat breeders, cows not cycling and barren animals are identified at an early stage.  This can only be an advantage.  The alternative is to put in a stock bull and wait for 6-8 months or more, and hope things have gone well.  Unexpected disappointments do happen.

Danger

Bulls can never be trusted.  They pose a risk to anyone in the vicinity.  Why take the risk?