"Artificial" breeding cows is very natural

The last few weeks I haven't been to town much--this is breeding season for our cattle and the decisions that we make today will impact our ranch for at least two years!  Back in the old days, breeding season used to mean that you turned your cows and calves out to newly greening pastures with a bull for a certain number of days.  Today, with the demands for high quality beef, we have many more tools in our kit.

Back in the old days, a bull could breed approximately 30 cows. That is still the case, if you only use natural service sires (in other words, let the bull breed the cows himself). We do a bit of that, but we do also use artificial insemination (AI, for short).  By using AI, I can select from the best bulls in the nation--or actually, the world!  The traits that I want to enhance in my cattle are what I look for in a bull to breed to the cows.  If I want smaller calves, bigger yearlings and high quality carcasses, I can select a bull with those specific traits. If my herd needs to increase their milk, increase growth and decrease external fat, there is a bull for that! Through science, we are able to predict the carcass qualities and growth characteristics of calves before they are even conceived. I am able to search through pedigrees and information on thousands of bulls to mate my cowherd to.  In addition, I can pick a different bull for each cow, if I want to do that! By the way, this is my daughter who has learned to AI cows along with me.

AI has done a lot to improve the quality and health of many cow herds, and directly impacts the eating quality of the steak I ate last night. My cow herd is a seedstock herd--which means that very few of my cattle are raised to be made into steak, but they are the seed for a large number of steaks.  I raise the genetics that the cowboys want to match up with their cows to raise calves with the desired traits they've selected! So the decisions I make today as to who to breed my cows to will impact my bottom line for years!

Let me explain further, I breed the cows this spring and 283 days later (late winter/early spring 2011) those calves are born. They stay with their mothers throughout the summer and we wean them in early fall 2011. They are then raised to be in good health and condition to be able to be sold to breed cows in the spring of 2012. I sell most of my bulls as yearlings in the spring. So the decisions I'm making as to which bulls to use, will directly impact my income in the spring of 2012. Those bulls then go to other ranches and breed their cows that will have calves a year later and many of those calves will be raised for beef and will appear on your plate in the winter of 2014. So the genetics that I am selecting and creating will be important for many years to come!

Breeding cows is a family activity at our ranch. I have about 250 cows and of those, I will AI about 200 of them. I AI all our own replacement heifers--that's approximately 65. Replacement heifers are the ones that we choose to keep in our cow herd to replace old cows or cows that need to be culled for a variety of reasons.  Then lastly, I AI'ed 275 crossbred heifers for sale. My husband works in town during the day, so I am on my own while the kids are in school. I have my working pens and facility set up so I can do most of the work alone, but it does take longer. So I try to wait until the kids are home from school or my husband is home from work to do the large groups of cattle.

The bottom line is, even though AI is short for "artificial insemination" it is a very natural process that greatly improves the quality of beef for many years.


  1. As a veterinarian, I would also add that AI is excellent at controlling the spread of venereal diseases (yes, cows and bulls get those too). AI is certainly what I encourage all my clients to do.

  2. Great post! Thanks for sharing this information. :D

  3. In bio class I need to do atrificial selection porject and I choosed a cow and i really dont know what to put on the before and after Artificial selection chart i need help. the cow after artificial selection is fatter then the before. need help pleasee


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