– Clif Little, OSU Extension Educator, Guernsey County
Evaluating the cost of artificial insemination (AI) versus natural service in beef cattle is difficult since there are a great number of variables to consider. A simple search of the Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle online resources reveals the many different kinds of comparisons that have been done, (https://beefrepro.unl.edu/). Each cattle producer will have a unique set of factors that weigh more heavily in their production system. Producers will find comparisons of producing pregnancies utilizing various methods of artificial insemination and realizing costs versus value is important. The obvious economic benefits of AI are: the uniformity of calves, concentration of work, shortened breeding and calving season, fewer bulls, improved genetic merit of the AI sired calves, and potentially more pounds of beef to sell annually. Some factors relating to AI are not easily measured such as increased safety, fewer bull escapes, capturing the full genetic value of the AI sired calves, and improved working facilities.
The following represents selected costs of items often utilized in AI programs, price varies and is approximate. (Online search 2020)
Item: Cost per Unit $
Semen: $25-$50 and up, and increases with purchase of semen certificates for registration. Depends on sires.
Sexed Semen: $50 and up. May cost two times the price of non-sexed semen for the same sire.
AI Guns: $35-$45
AI Gun Sheaths: $5 per 50
Breeder Sleeves: $14 per 100
O B Lube: $12 per gal
Straw Cutter: $8.50
Heat detection patch: $60 per 50
Easi-Breed CIDR ® Applicator Gun: $14
Thermometer’s (card & dial): $8 & $15
Semen Thaw Unit: $150 to $210
Bovine Insemination Kit: $350 (includes all equipment to get started)
Semen Tank: $700 new (local A.I. technicians may know sources of good used tanks). The cost to service a tank every other month is approximately $50-$60.
Syringe/needle disposable: $0.25 (price varies with quantity and combination)
Prescription Products- cost/dosage can vary based on brand, concentration and quantity purchased.
Prostaglandin F2 alpha: $3 per dose (dosage and administration can vary)
GnRH: $2-$3 per dose
Melengestrol Acetate (MGA): Feed additive applied as top dress or mixed as complete ration, price varies.
*Always follow Label Recommendations, Veterinary instructions and Beef Quality Assurance Guidelines relating to drug use.
The cost to hire an experienced AI technician can range for $10-$20 per cow/service varying by region, number of cows worked, handling facilities and other factors. The cost to set-up the entire AI program would be considerably higher. Kansas State University has developed an on-line Excel spreadsheet resource to evaluate the economics, costs and benefits of natural (bull) breeding versus artificial insemination (AI) in beef herds, available at: https://www.agmanager.info/node/7117 .
Two economic indicators seem to always ring true relating to AI. First, for small producers (20 cows and less), AI makes more sense. Additionally, the larger the cattle operation the economy of scale seems to apply and the more economical AI becomes (Johnson & Jones, 2005). Tightening the calving season utilizing AI or through better synchronization of cows almost always results in more pounds of calf to sell at the end of the year. Like many costs, the way one looks at the data makes a difference. For example, one can evaluate cost on a per service basis, per pregnancy, per cow exposed, per AI protocol, and per hundred weight of calf weaned. Factors that greatly influence cost include bull to cow ratio, purchase price of bulls, purchase price of semen, salvage value of bulls, years of bull service, value of calves produced, pregnancy rate, labor, and scale of operation. Not often mentioned in the literature is the need for improved cattle handling facilities. Reviewing this data will leave the reader with the realization that utilizing AI is slightly more expensive than natural service but makes good sense for reasons of continued genetic improvement and reduced need for bulls.
Johnson, S.K., and R.D. Jones. 2005. Costs and comparisons of estrous synchronization systems. Pages 117-129 in Proceedings, Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle Workshop, Reno, NV. www.oznet.ksu.edu/nwao/PDF/Sandy%20pdf/Johnson2005Costs.pdf