Preparing for the Artificial Insemination Season
By Dr. Ray Favero, Ph.D.
There is much interest in artificial insemination in the elk industry. Having been
involved in artificial insemination in elk for a few years and having performed much
research and many inseminations in the cattle industry, I have seen various operations and
results. Several factors can influence conception rates. This article is based on my
experiences and may not be shared by all practitioners. Over the last few years I have
seen conception rates improve on many of the farms that t I visit. I hope that these
suggestions will help others obtain optimal conception rates.
The increased use of artificial insemination has been dramatic. This emphasized the
fact that elk producers are serious about genetics and will very aggressive bout improving
traits rapidly. During the upcoming breeding season, a higher percentage of the total
number of elk cows will be bred by artificial insemination than the percentage of beef
cows that are bred by artificial insemination.
Before entering into an artificial insemination program, a producer should carefully
analyze his breeding program and goals. Artificial insemination is an extremely powerful
tool, but it may not be for every producer. Develop goals for your elk herd before
entering into a new genetic venture. Semen is available from a wide variety of bulls, and
it is important that you identify the bulls that best suit the goals of your herd.
Preplanning and careful female selection will result in acceptable conception rates, while
no planning and use of inferior quality females will result in unacceptable conception
rates. Some of the criteria and concerns in cow selection are as follows:
- Calm cow; wean calves if necessary
- Body condition 3 to 3.5 (not fat or thin)
- Only the best quality cows
- Older cows (versus 2 and 3-year-olds)
- Cows that have produced calves
Most producers will have facilities that are adequate for estrous synchronization and
artificial insemination. To perform the estrous synchronization and artificial
insemination procedures, the cows must be handled three times. If you cows are wild and
hard to get into the handling system or your cows are overly nervous in the handling
facility, then changes to the handling system are in order. If you (and your cows) are not
prepared for the artificial insemination season, then it may be set to wait another year
before entering into an artificial insemination program.
In selecting a date to artificially inseminate, it is best to look at the prior calving
history of your herd. Granted, everyone would like to have earlier calves, but if cows are
artificially inseminated before they begin to naturally cycle, then the conception rates
will decrease dramatically. If the majority of your calves are being born in late June and
July, then your nutritional and management programs need assistance and it would be wise
to improve those before entering into an artificial insemination program. Although it is
recommended that the animals which are used to cows at least three years of age that have
produced calves, experiments were conducted in the 97 breeding season to investigate
artificial insemination of yearling heifers. The results were encouraging and insemination
of yearling heifers may be possible. The use of two-year-old cows in an AI program is
discouraged because two-year0old cows are often in poor body condition due to trying to
grow as well as produce milk and raise calves.
To prepare the elk cows for artificial insemination, they are treated with drugs so
that they can all be inseminated at the same time. This procedure is called estrous
synchronization. This procedure is basically as follows:
- A plastic/rubber type devise is inserted into the vagina of the elk cow.
- This remains in the wow for 12 to 14 days and then is removed.
- At the time that the device is removed, the cow is given a shot of PMSG.
- All cows are artificially inseminated 60 to 66 hours after device removal.
- The backup bull is joined with the cows 7 to 10 days after artificial insemination.
- Pregnancy can be determined by blood testing or ultrasonography 40 to 42 days after
- The parentage of the calves is confirmed by DNA analysis.
Remember, careful planning and good nutritional programs will result in successful