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:

  1. A plastic/rubber type devise is inserted into the vagina of the elk cow.
  2. This remains in the wow for 12 to 14 days and then is removed.
  3. At the time that the device is removed, the cow is given a shot of PMSG.
  4. All cows are artificially inseminated 60 to 66 hours after device removal.
  5. The backup bull is joined with the cows 7 to 10 days after artificial insemination.
  6. Pregnancy can be determined by blood testing or ultrasonography 40 to 42 days after artificial insemination.
  7. The parentage of the calves is confirmed by DNA analysis.

Remember, careful planning and good nutritional programs will result in successful breeding programs.


Artificial Insemination Checklist

1.  Identify Goals

  • Long-Term Investment
  • Herd Improvement
  • Velvet Production
  • Trophy Production

2.  AI Justification

  • Increased Herd Quality
  • Decreased Disease Risk

3.  Bull Selection

  • Achievement of Herd Goals
  • Temperament
  • Antler Production

4.  Mating Decisions

  • No Inbreeding
  • Correcting Weaknesses
  • Bull Complements Cow

5.  Calm Cows

  • Accustomed to Working Facility
  • Easy to Yard
  • Wild Cows = Don't Use

6.  Body Condition

  • Not Over Fat, Not Too Thin
  • Body Condition Score 3.0 to 3.5
  • Wean Calves
  • Gaining Weight
  • Parasite control
  • Place on Best Pastures

7.  Age

  • Not 2-year-olds
  • Yearling Heifers?
  • Fleshy 3 and 4-year-olds
  • 5-year-old and Over
  • Wean as Needed

8.  Calf Age at AI

  • 60 or More Days
  • 45 - 60 = Evaluate Cow
  • 45 or Less = Don't use
  • Did not Calve = Evaluate
  • Has Never Calved = Don't Use

9.  Calving Problems

  • None = OK
  • Some = Palpate and Evaluate

10.  Quality of Calves

  • Good
  • Poor = Don't Use

11.  Genetics, Physical Characteristics

  • Good = OK
  • Poor = Don't Use

12.  Working Facilities

  • Functional
  • Safe

13.  Good Raceways


  

Gestation Table*
Breeding
Date
Early Calving
243 Days
Late Calving
254 Days
S

E

P

T

E

M

B

E

R












O

C

T

O

B

E

R

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
M

A

Y




















J

U

N

E
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
M

A

Y




















J

U

N

E
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
1

*Table courtesy of Wapiti Genetics

Links:


About the Author:  Dr. Ray Favero, Ph.D., holds a Masters and Doctorate degrees in the area of management and reproductive physiology.   He has been actively involved in the elk industry for the last nine years and consults to North American elk breeders in the areas of management, genetics, marketing, and ranch design.  Dr. Favero is one of the ten approved senior velvet judges for NAEBA and serves on the Board of Directors for NAEBA.  Dr. Favero is co-owner of Wapiti Genetics.  You can contact Dr. Favero at (217) 469-2690 in Illinois.


 

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