By Lance Bauer, Director of Breed Improvement
My last article was about how to use breeding decisions to move forward. This article I will expand on ways to expedite those breeding decisions and make improvement at a more rapid pace. Using all the tools available to improve a herd of cattle is the best way to go. Some of these tools are new, while some are older and have been improved over time. Two tools that are not exactly new but have been improved and used more and more in recent years are: artificial insemination (AI) and embryo transfer (ET). Both tools allow for rapid genetic improvement of a herd. Using both tools in conjunction with breeding decisions can really help move a breeding program forward.
Artificial insemination has been around since 1780 and has been continually improved upon since. AI is a way to incorporate sires with good genetics into your herd without having to physically own the bull. It also allows for you to use a variety of different sires that can be mated with specific cows to reach your breeding objectives. For example, if you have several cows that are lacking in weaning weight you may breed those to a bull with a larger weaning weight and if you have some cows lacking in carcass traits you may breed those to a different bull with good carcass traits. It has been shown in many studies that calves sired by AI bulls are worth more, in part because there is reduced cost in owning and maintaining a bull and in part because, with the right breeding decisions, the calves are genetically superior. AI is a quick way to make genetic improvements and move forward with your breeding goals.
Embryo transfer is another tool that has been around for a while and there have been many advancements in this technology. Traditional ET involves superovulating a donor cow and then flushing embryos to transfer into recipient cows. Invitro fertilization (IVF) uses oocytes from a donor cow and fertilizes them in a lab to then be transferred to recipient cows. By utilizing ET you can take advantage of superior genetics of both a sire and a dam. ET can be a fast and efficient way to reach your breeding objectives. If you have a dam that meets your criteria and a sire that you like, then you can have multiple progeny in one year from the mating of those two animals. Using ET can also help increase the uniformity of your herd. Make sure that you use informed breeding decisions if you are using ET, so that you move forward and not backward.
AI and ET are two tools that you can use to help move forward with your breeding program. Using AI and ET in combination with selection, you can move forward more quickly. These technologies have a very large upside potential in helping reach goals, however they require more intensive management than natural service. These are just more tools to add to your toolbox to help you reach your breeding goals and continue to move your herd forward.