Sunday, April 17, 2011

Let's Talk About Sex...

...Cow sex that is.

Now that I have your attention, we're going to talk about artificial insemination in the dairy industry. Before we do, here's a new addition on the farm. Pepsi delivered a healthy female calf (heifer) on April 10. See our last post to learn more about the mama.

Before the calf was even born, we knew there was a good chance that she would be... well, a she. Pepsi was bred using artificial insemination to Million, a bull owned by Select Sires. The semen was sexed, meaning that there was roughly a 90% probability that the calf would be female. Before we get into those details, let's start with the birds and the bees: how artificial insemination works and why it's used.

The majority of dairy farms in the United States use artificial insemination. Semen is collected from bulls off-site. The semen is stored in sealed straws, which are frozen in liquid nitrogen tanks. One farmer can keep numerous straws of semen stored for an extended period of time in a tank at their farm. As the cows come into estrus, or heat, the farmer can remove the straws, thaw them, and breed the cows. The video below, courtesy of the University of Missouri, explains more about the breeding process.

Artificial insemination accomplishes several purposes in dairy production. First, it provides tons of options for reproduction. A dairy farm that only has one bull to use for natural breeding doesn't have genetic options. On the other hand, a farmer that uses artificial insemination can select a mate for a cow based on genetic potential that will improve the quality of the herd. This selective breeding allows a farmer to select a bull that will be a solid match for the particular cow he is breeding. Secondly, artificial insemination can be a safer alternative than natural breeding. If a farmer is housing a bull on his farm, then he takes the risk of the bull endangering himself and his employees. A full grown bull weigh around 2000 pounds. That's a large critter to contain and move! The bull can also be hard on the cows. The semen for artificial insemination, alternatively, is stored in a tank no larger than a kitchen trash can. Finally, artificial insemination can be very economical. A farm that is using natural breeding would have costs associated with housing the bull, such as feed and medical expenses, but a farm that is using artificial insemination can purchase a dose of semen from a reputable bull starting around $15.

With such benefits, it is no wonder that artificial insemination is so widely used in the U.S. It is a powerful tool that allows farmers to improve their herds while reaping other benefits. Stay tuned for our next blog post for more sex talk (cow sex, that is) and to see how semen can be sexed to lead to a greater possibility of female offspring.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pepsi or Coke?

It's a timeless battle. Which is better: Pepsi or Coke? Each has pros and cons. In their favor, Pepsi has a cooler label, while Coke puts happiness into each beverage. On the negative flip-side, Pepsi had the disturbing commercial with the boy getting sucked into the bottle, while Coke can corrode a penny. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference.

This blog really has nothing to do with caffeinated sodas, but it does have to do with a heifer named Pepsi. Here she is:

Greg and Jason headed down to Columbus on Friday to the Buckeye Classic Sale at the Spring Dairy Expo with the intention of dropping a few bucks to improve our herd genetics. Before they went to the sale, they perused the sale catalog with data about each cow, so they could be sure they were picking out the best addition to our herd. The data in the catalog can tell you just about everything you need to know about a cow. It lists her pedigree; if she's in production (meaning she's been milked), it lists her milk records; it lists her registration number; it even includes her birthdate. With 53 head of cattle in the sale, it was a lot of reading material!

So what were the boys looking for when they set their sights on a cow? Milk has two main components: protein and butterfat. Dairy farmers are paid based upon the amount of each component in their milk. Greg and Jason wanted to make sure that they selected cows that would help the herd average in those two areas. They also wanted to pick cows that had high production (made a lot of milk.) A lot of this is done based on speculation. Remember how I said the sale catalog lists pedigree information? You can tell a lot about how a cow will milk based on her lineage. If her dam (mom) produced a lot of milk, then it is likely that she will also.

Once Greg and Jason selected a few head of cattle that they were interested in based off of their paper records, it was time for them to look at them in person. Before the sale started, they were able to look at each cow and heifer they were considering. Just like anything, it might look good on paper, but in front of your eyes, it's a different story. As they looked at the cattle, they examined their confirmation (how their legs are set up), their frame size, and their overall appearance. Based on what they saw on paper and what they saw in person, they narrowed down their wish list.

When it was all said and done, Greg and Jason came home with Pepsi, not Coke. (Ok, that's a bad joke. I doubt there was even a cow named Coke in the sale.) Pepsi is a two-year old registered Holstein, set to calve on April 18. They also picked up two heifers (young females that haven't had calves yet), Divine and Daurel. The barns are a little fuller, but we're looking forward to seeing how these ladies contribute to the herd.