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Experts offer reminders for successful AI

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

With this year’s calves on the ground, many producers are already gearing up for next year’s calving season, which may include an estrous synchronization and artificial insemination (AI) program.

In an effort to help cattle operations achieve high pregnancy rates and a successful breeding season, the Beef Reproduction Task Force (BRTF) has made several helpful tools available to those currently gearing up to AI. 

In the first webinar of their 2023 spring series, dated April 24, BRTF hosts Dr. Nicky Oosthuizen, a sales manager and reproductive specialist for ABS and Dr. Kristina Porter, a large animal vet of Huron, S.D. and sales rep for ABS. 

On the March 30 episode of Kansas State University’s (KSU) Agriculture Today podcast, Host Samantha Bennett sits down with KSU Beef Reproductive Specialist and BRTF Member Dr. Sandy Johnson. 

In both of these discussions, the BRTF reps offer ways producers can increase the success of AI on their operations before, during and after breeding. 

Before breeding

The three specialists agree the first step to successful AI comes before anything is actually bred. 

“While preparing for the AI process, the first thing producers need to do is make sure they have their herd nutrition right,” Johnson states. “The condition a cow is in during calving really sets the stage for breeding season.” 

Johnson and Porter both note cattle need to be on an increasing plane of nutrition, with an adequate body condition score when transitioning from calving to breeding. Producers will see reduced performance with females that are both too fat or too thin. 

“If producers are putting time and money into AI, I really encourage them to start before winter to make sure they have their cows in the best shape so their bodies can do what we are asking them to do,” Porter states. 

She notes pre-breeding vaccinations are also important and encourages producers to administer these vaccines at least 45 days prior to breeding, which is a fairly new recommendation and longer than the 30 days many producers are used to. 

“I would personally prefer producers do it closer to 60 days prior to breeding, but a lot of people are still adjusting to the new research showing vaccines should be administered at least 45 days before,” she adds. 

In addition to herd nutrition and vaccination protocols, Oosthuizen says it is important to perform breeding soundness exams on clean-up bulls at least 30 to 60 days prior to AI so there is plenty of time to fix a problem or replace a bull before they are needed. 

Porter says producers also need to remember it takes time for cows to return to normal condition, size and function to carry another calf, and this time can be further delayed for cows who endured calving difficulty, uterine infections or disease, retained placentas or other diseases, such as metabolic disease. 

Prior to breeding, Johnson notes producers should also take inventory and stock up on necessary supplies and equipment they might need for breeding day, including breeding gloves, sleeves and straw cutters.

“Producers should use a thermometer to ensure their electronic thaw units are working correctly and top off their nitrogen tanks to elevate the frost line and give them more of a cushion when handling semen,” she says. 

Estrous synchronization and AI 

On days when producers are actively partaking in estrous synchronization and AI, the experts agree they should keep three things in mind – following proven protocol, utilizing proper handling techniques and keeping stress to a minimum. 

When it comes to deciding on a synchronization protocol, Porter notes there is a long list of options but producers shouldn’t lose sleep over trying to figure out which one is best. 

“BRTF has done a phenomenal job of outlining protocols they have found to work best,” she explains. “We have used all of them out in the field, and they are all good. Despite some of the differences shown in research, we don’t see many differences in real life.”

With this said, she simply encourages producers to pick whichever one they think will work best for them, their operation and their cattle. 

“The kind of cattle producers put through these protocols is much more important than the actual protocol they choose,” she says. 

In an effort to help make this decision a little easier, BRTF has put together a guide of different protocols and launched an online Estrous Synchronization Planner, which helps producers stay organized and does the necessary math required for different protocols. 

“The Estrous Synchronization Planner allows producers to plug in information, like if they want to breed their cows on a particular day at 8 a.m., it might show them, with the protocol they have chosen, that to do this they will need to get up at 4 a.m. to pull CIDRs,” says Johnson. “This allows them to decide if a certain protocol will or will not work for them.”

The three specialists remind producers it is also important to handle semen and load guns correctly. 

Johnson notes more people have started using quarter straws of semen, which are more sensitive to temperature change since there are more cells exposed to the exterior. 

Because of this, individuals handling the semen need to ensure they keep straws below the frost line of a nitrogen tank until they need them to prevent damage to the semen. 

Quietly handling cattle to avoid high stress is also critical to ensuring a high success rate when using AI. 

After breeding

According to Oosthuizen, producers are not out of the woods after they run their last animal through the AI chute. 

In fact, she notes there are a few things they need to consider following breeding to ensure AI success. 

“It is recommended, if producers need to transport females after breeding, it is done within the first four days because the fertilized embryo hasn’t implanted in the uterus yet, so it is less susceptible to stress,” she explains. 

“However, if it can’t be done in the first four days, it is advisable to wait at least 45 days. Research shows these two time periods have the lowest reduction in fertility when transporting females after breeding,” she adds. 

Oosthuizen also encourages producers to use pregnancy diagnosis tools and to maintain good records so they can make good culling decisions.

She states, “Pregnancy diagnosis tools and maintaining good records will help producers get rid of females that cost them more money than they accrue, which is important on any operation.” 

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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