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Artificial insemination impacts dairy herd production
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Artificial insemination impacts dairy herd production

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Artificial insemination (AI) has greatly impacted the dairy industry since its conception in the in 1950s.

The AI process begins when semen is collected from superior sires, and is frozen. Dairy farmers then obtain information on the various sires, and use that data to determine a match for each of their cows. The producer purchases frozen vials of semen from various sires, and services his cows as they come into heat.

When the practice began, technicians from companies that handled semen came to farms to service herds. Today, most large dairies have their own technician.

In its initial stages, AI breeding was used mainly for the purpose of increasing milk production in dairy herds. The practice relieved small herd owners from having to buy and maintain a herd sire, which provided some safety as dairy sires have been known to be aggressive around human handlers.

In an article (compiled by et al, Journal of Animal Science, 2009) comparing dairy herds from 1944 when only herd sires were used on farms, to herds in 2007 when 70 percent of dairy cows were AI breed, research revealed milk production rose more than 400 percent.

While herd nutrition, improved facilities, better health management, and herds moving toward the larger Holstein breed contributed to the amazing gains, AI genetics also had a major impact on the increased milk production.

The study showed the 1944 cow herds only produced 4,563 pounds of milk per lactation, while predominate Holstein herds produced 20,225 pounds of milk in 2007. That is an increase of 15,662 pounds of milk over the six plus decades. It would have taken about four and a half cows in 1944 to produce what one cow produced in 2007.

Also, a USDA-NASS Publication (2-20-2020) shows that production per cow in the U.S. climbed from a little over 21,000 pounds of milk in 2010 to nearly 23,500 pounds in 2019, which was an 11 percent increase over one decade.

Genetics has played a vital role in dairy efficiency over the years, but today local producers also use AI for various other reasons.

“There are numerous traits that our bulls are graded on, because each dairy farmer has unique goals in what they are looking for,” said Cassie Endres, North American Marketing and Design Coordinator for ABS Global, a major distributor of dairy semen. “Sire traits include total milk production, and fat and protein content in the milk. Other traits herdsmen look for are health traits for healthier off springs with less disease incidents, and fertility problems, calving traits, and conformation, which include offspring’s height, body size, udder, and feet and leg conformation.”

Endres said that dairy producers are using beef sires to impregnate lower producing cows, because herdsmen will not be using replacement heifers from those cows. Beef-dairy crossbred calves bring more money than dairy calves when sold as calves or feeders.

Most dairymen only breed their top producing cows with sexed semen from dairy bulls to obtain dairy heifers, which will become their future milk cows. Sexed semen provides about a 90 percent chance that top producing cows will give birth to a heifer calf.

AI breeding gives herdsmen a wide variety of choices in selecting the genetics that will continue to improve their herds, and their milk production.

Nathan Nedved of Nedved Family Farms in Hancock County said he picks sires that will help his cows to be uniform for the efficiency of the farm's robots.

"If the cow we breed is larger we use a smaller Jersey sire, if she is smaller we use a Holstein or Fleckvieh sire’s semen," Nedved said. "We also pick sires’ semen that will produce off springs that produce higher milk protein and butter fat content. In our breeding program we also look for sires whose off springs will milk quickly, and have good teat placement so they will be efficient while milking in the robots.”

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