The Impact of AI: One On-Farm Example

Dr. Les Anderson, Beef Extension Specialist, University of Kentucky

Commercial beef producers have resisted using estrus synchronization and AI (ES/AI) for years. Recent USDA estimates indicate that fewer than 10% of all beef producers incorporate AI into their breeding programs. One of the main issues limiting the use of ES/AI is that most ranchers don’t feel that they are able to recover the additional costs associated with ES/AI. In recent articles, we have compared the cost of pregnancy for natural service and ES/SI and discovered that ES/AI adds $15-25 per pregnancy. However, we have demonstrated that ES/AI can increase weaning weight by about 70 pounds, increase the number of calves born (higher weaning percentage), and thus can increase profits by about $140 in today’s market. The question remains whether these principles actually apply to the “real world”.

The best example that illustrates the impact of ES/AI in a commercial beef operation comes from Hillwinds Farms in Southwest Virginia. Tim Sutphin, owner and manager of Hillwinds, presented these data at the Applied Reproductive Strategies for Beef Cattle Symposium held in Lexington, KY in 2005. Hillwinds runs approximately 600 females and retains ownership on all cattle through harvest. All females are subjected to ES/AI for one service then are exposed to clean-up bulls for about 60 days. The key to these on-farm data is that Mr. Sutphin keeps excellent records and can accurately document changes in performance. These data are from cattle harvested in 2004.

The cost per pregnancy for natural service and ES/AI are similar at Hillwinds to what we have previously discussed. The year these data were collected the cost per pregnancy for ES/AI was $41 compared to a $27 cost per pregnancy for natural service. Use of ES/AI increased his overall pregnancy rate by 2%, lowers his calf death loss by 2%, decreases the percentage of assisted births by 1.6%, shortens his calving season (87% of the herd calves in the first 30 days of the breeding season), and increases the overall calf-age by 16 days.

The advantage of AI at weaning and harvest can be observed in Table 1. Four groups were examined; AI on AI indicates AI-sired steers from AI-sired dams, AI on non-AI indicates AI-sired steers from a natural service-sired dams, etc. Weaning performance was higher in the AI-sired steers than in the natural service-sired steers. Also, the value of the AI-sired dam as natural service-sired steers from AI-sired dams were nearly 100 pounds heavier at weaning compared to natural service-sired steers from natural service-sired dams.

The advantages of AI carry on through harvest (Tables 2 and 3). Steers with AI in their pedigree weighed more, grew faster, and had more valuable carcasses than those born only of natural service sires. As one would predict, these performance advantages led to an increase in net returns per cow (Table 4). Net returns were highest for steers sired by AI from an AI-sired dam and were nearly $140 greater than returns from steers sired by natural service sires and a natural service dam.

Hillwinds Farms summarized the impact of ES/AI in their operation. Their records indicate that, in 2004, an AI-sired steer from an AI-sired dam was worth $78.18 more at weaning and $145.27 at harvest. An AI-sired steer from a natural service dam was worth $38.54 at weaning and $64.31 at harvest. Natural service-sired steers from AI-sired dams were worth $53.59 at weaning and $69.24 at harvest.

The Hillwind data are quite clear. It costs them $14 more per pregnancy to breed their cows using ES/AI. However, ES/AI increased net returns $40-$145 depending upon how the steers were marketed (weaning versus harvest) and how much AI is in their pedigree. So, does using ES/AI cost or does it pay?

Table 1. Steer Performance at Weaning

Group WW (lbs) Age (days) WDA (lbs/day)
AI on AI 747 230 2.92
AI on Non-AI 691 223 2.76
Non-AI on AI 720 205 3.15
Non-AI on Non-AI 625 195 2.82

Table 2. Steer Performance at Harvest (growth)

Group Live Wt (lbs) Days on Feed ADG (lbs/day)
AI on AI 1373 165 3.79
AI on Non-AI 1310 165 3.75
Non-AI on AI 1273 170 3.25
Non-AI on Non-AI 1258 180 3.52

Table 3. Steer Performance at Harvest (carcass)

Group %Ch %Pr %CAB %Se YG1 YG2 YG3 YG4
AI on AI 95 4 35 4 0 52 48 0
AI on Non-AI 74 0 15 26 3 46 46 0
Non-AI on AI 85 8 15 15 0 31 69 0
Non-AI on Non-AI 71 1 7 29 4 45 47 4
TOTAL 76 3 14 24 3 45 48 2

Table 4. Net Return/cow 2004 spring steers

Group Weight $/CWT Feed ($) Truck ($) Net $
AI on AI 1373 95.75 271 43 1002
AI on Non-AI 1310 93.70 268 39 921
Non-AI on AI 1273 94.70 239 41 925
Non-AI on Non-AI 1258 93.43 274 36 866
TOTAL 1297 93.86 273 38 907