Tips for Farmers doing all Artificial Breeding (AB)
AB-only is an increasingly attractive option for some farmers as it can have both economic and health and safety benefits. Potential benefits can include:
- Reduced cost per pregnancy
- More mating options available to create the desired end product and to capture added benefits e.g. SGL Dairy® semen, Compact Calving plus BW, or SGL Hereford
- No bulls eating grass on the dairy platform
- No bulls for staff to handle in the milking herd
Recent work has shown that performance is very similar between herds using AB-only and those using traditional mating methods (AB period followed by natural mating bulls). See Table 1.
Table 1. McNaughton et al. (2016) LIC
Reproductive Performance of a cohort of AB-only herds versus AB plus natural mating herds in MINDA (2014)
When using AB-only it’s important to remember that some of the risk factors differ to those in traditional AB-plus-service-bull mating strategies. Adequately addressing these risks helps achieve a successful outcome. The risks that are eliminated are those associated with using service bulls.
The main increased risk is heat detection error, particularly ‘missed heats’ when a bulling cow is not detected. ‘Invented heats’ can also be an issue, when a cow is mated when she is not on heat. Heat detection errors are more likely if fatigue or loss of focus set in over time.
Here are some fundamental requirements that may help with success in AB-only herds:
- Heat detection skills must be top notch
- Heat detection fatigue or inattention must be avoided
- Focus must be sustained for a longer period of time
- Secondary forms of heat detection are recommended, particularly in the latter part of the mating period when tail paint may be more difficult to maintain and interpret
Tips before you embark on all AB
- Check out your previous years’ heat detection performance in MINDA™ reports to make sure you’re meeting targets. Ask for help if you are not sure what to look for. Be honest about it, as if it is not up to scratch it could be costly
- Have a very robust heat detection plan and process specific to your farm in place. Consider personnel doing the detecting, breaks for your staff to keep them focussed and more staff training if you think it may be needed
- The use of secondary heat detection aids is highly recommended (e.g. KAMARS®). The longer you go the harder it gets to pick them on heat! Bulling activity drops off markedly when most cows are pregnant and sexually active groups get small. This is especially important in the later rounds of mating, as mating a pregnant cow can cause pregnancy loss
- Don’t underestimate the importance of maintaining focus – that can be a big challenge
- Maintaining confidence in your ability to pick cows can be an issue. Use additional sources of information to help you decide – including but not limited to any of the following – secondary heat detection aids, previous mating history of the animal, herd paddock checks or an experienced colleague on farm
- If you are using new heat detection aids, practice with their interpretation in the pre-mating period so you are up to speed before mating starts
- Have a Plan B sorted in case you change your mind as you get into it