Beef 2012

Australian producers urged to embrace fixed-time AI

James Nason, 08/05/2012

Dr Gabriel Bo addresses the international genetics conference at Beef 2012 yesterday. Argentinian cattle reproductive physiology specialist Dr Gabriel Bo has urged commercial cattle producers in Australia to embrace fixed-time artificial insemination as a breeding tool to increase pregnancy rates and to produce heavier calves.

Fixed-time artificial insemination (FTAI) involves synchronising the oestrus cycle across female groups to enable an entire breeding herd to be inseminated within a tight window of time, such as six hours to 12 hours.

The technology is being heralded as a major breakthrough in delivering cost-effective, large-scale artificial breeding programs. It has the capacity to eliminate the need for accurate oestrus (heat) detection and to reduce the high cost of time and labour.

Industry acceptance of FTAI has soared in Dr Bo’s native South America, where commercial producers have now followed the lead of stud operations in embracing the technology.

In 2001 there were 100,000 females involved in Argentinian FTAI programs. By last year, Dr Bo said, that number had to 2,500,000 head.

In Brazil, FTAI usage in the predominantly Nelore (Bos indicus) female herd had increased from 100,000 head in 2002 to 6,500,000 last year.

“It really took off when commercial producers started,” Dr Bo, president of the Institute of Animals Reproduction, Cordoba, told Beef Central at yesterday’s genetics conference.

“The benefits are really visible. By doing this they were getting heavier calves at weaning.

“We tested that and we found that on average the calves are between 30 and 40kg heavier at weaning, partly because of the genetics, but mainly because they are born earlier.”

The use of AI to expedite and enhance genetic development in a herd also opened the door to higher value markets.

“That is what happened in Brazil. Most of these Nelore cows are now going into AI programs with Angus or other breeds, and the slaughter plants are supporting this and are trying to get the people to do it, because it has got a return to them as well on the meat quality side.”

Dr Gabriel BoDr Bo said the FTAI process uses the same hormones that cows and heifers normally use in their oestrus cycle to ovulate at the same time, which enables producers to achieve good pregnancy rates in a short period of time, and early in the breeding season.

Working with groups of anywhere from 150 to 400 females, the concept involves inserting a Cue-Mate progesterone release device in combination with hormonal injections to stimulate and synchronise ovulation seven to eight days later.

Cows are handled just three times throughout the process, with large scale trials in Argentina and Brazil achieving 45-50pc pregnancy rates from one insemination.

“The main benefit is that you can get a group of cows artificially inseminated in a short period of time, which saves the time you had to spend on oestrus detection,” Dr Bo said. 

“Also it helps those cows to start cycling early in the breeding season, so instead of having only 10-30pc of your cows pregnant in the first 21 days, you can aim at having 60pc of the cows pregnant in the first 21 days.”

The catch is, according to Dr Bo, producers need to do it right.

“You have to get good advice. You need professional help and you need people that know how to it, if you just get the brochure and do it, most likely you are going to fail.”

Dr Bo told more than 200 delegates at yesterday’s genetic conference that the chances of achieving genetic improvement through AI programs were much higher if producers used their wet cows instead of heifers.

Many people started AI programs with heifers because they were easier to manage and represented the frontline of the selection program. However Dr Bo believes this strategy does is not an efficient way to deliver the best genetics to a herd.

“The heifer population is only 20pc-30pc of your total cow population, and if you get 50pc of them pregnant, then what is your real impact on your whole herd?

“You are only getting the new genes to 10pc of the population, plus you are not going to be able to use all the genetics that you want, because heifers usually have more calving problems and lower mothering ability.
“I think the most effective is to get there early in the breeding season and to get your best cows and AI them, and then you use those cows to make a real impact on your program.”



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