Owning a bull would seem to be a requirement to be in the business of cows and calves, wouldn’t it? Maybe not. You do have the option of breeding cows by artificial insemination. It’s not perfect, and maybe you’ll only get 60% to 70% conception with A.I. And you’ll still need a clean-up bull to catch some late-breeders. But natural mating isn’t perfect, either, says Willie Altenberg of Genex Co-op, an A.I. bull stud that sells both dairy and beef semen.
At the Cattle Convention this week, he is telling producers that yearling bull prices for commercial beef herds are keeping pace with the recent run-up in the entire cattle market. At some bull sales, average yearling beef bulls to go into commercial operations will sell for $4,000 to $5,000 per head. At that price, and if the bull sires 25 live calves over two breeding seasons, your simple bull price (not including feed and maintenance) is $100 per calf.
1. You need a semen canister filled with liquid nitrogen to store and transport semen in. Semen must stay frozen at all times otherwise it dies!!! The size of the flask determines how expensive it is and how long you can store semen before the flask runs dry. The flask must be topped up or refilled with liquid nitrogen before it runs dry otherwise the semen will thaw and die. We recommend a flask that can hold about 3-month’s supply of liquid nitrogen (GP-20) and this size of flask costs about R15’000. Ideally the flask should be checked once a week and filled once a month. If you live somewhere that is not near a supply of liquid nitrogen then you will need a bigger flask – there are flask that last up to 12 months.
2. If you are not trained to do AI yourself, then you need to make sure that there is a vet or someone trained to do AI in your district that can help you. A vet is the most obvious choice, but they are also expensive. You can try someone at a dairy since they do a lot of AI. AI is not that difficult and there are several places where one can do a course and buy the necessary equipment to enable you to do AI yourself, but obviously it will take practice before you have good success rates.
3. If you are okay with all of the above then you can buy semen. One uses semen rather than a bull because semen from the very best bulls are cheaper than buying the whole bull. Also AI enables you get get new genetics into your herd for diversity without having to own several bulls. However, a bull is much more effective and much less work than AI. AI is used to complement your bull and never to take the place of a bull. In many instances it is more cost effective to buy a bull to cover your cows rather than to use semen in an AI programme.
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