by Stacey Hopkins
Breeding animals is a science. Artificial insemination has changed the livestock and agriculture industry over decades of improvements with technology and more changes are on their way. You pick this sire, and use that dam, all while rolling the dice of science. You can’t fool mother nature, but you can help it out in hopes that it may help you in return.
Daniel Bogden, an ABS Global Inc. representative and distributor, has been breeding for many years and has watched and helped many farms enhance their herds, raise prize winning animals, and use genetics as the secret ingredient to milk production, healthy calves, and overall success whether the farmer has 10 cows or 1,000. But it is not a secret anymore. Breeding is just one more example of how we have no choice but to jump on the fast moving train of technology. Bulls on farms may not be a thing of the past, but when it comes to making money, we need to get right down to business.
Daniel says one of the biggest changes during his career since he started in 1966, has been sorted semen, which is 98 percent guaranteed to produce a female calf. However, the semen gets stressed from being sorted, and can sometimes make it harder for the cow or heifer to get pregnant.
This is a great way for herds to grow within and then along with that change came synchronization. This is where farmers give their cattle shots to bring them into heat so they can breed several cows and heifers at one time.
One of many of Dan’s farms, who use these concepts, would be Alt Farms in Appleton, NY. We all know no one loves good time and money management more than farmers, so these genetic and breeding concepts are sure to please. Owners of Alt Farms, brothers Gary and Dave Alt, have been working with Dan for many years. Dan has recently started training Jake McGee, who has a degree in Animal Science from SUNY Cobleskill. The Alts have known Jake since he was little and were happy to see Dan take Jake under his wing.
Jake said he has always had an interest in genetics and cattle breeding, as he loved taking reproductive and genetic judging classes at school, as he likes to think and work for new ways of improving herds. Jake, who was also involved with 4-H and cattle showing, has a drive for striving to push animals to their full potential. Which is why at just age 23, has already successfully bred hundreds of pigs, cows, and goats. He and his wife, Nicole, who have been married about 6 months, are looking forward to starting a meat goat farm someday — using of course genetics and artificial insemination in their favor.
Jake has already seen other farms that are using heat detection bans and collars on their cattle, which allows farmers to computer track when the cow is coming into heat, how intense the heat is, their daily milk production, and other helpful pieces of information. It is an expensive investment but the Alts are not in need of this unique system yet. They currently milk around 160 cows, but in the future it could be possible as the price of milk ends up determining another piece of fate.
Dave Alt says he enjoys delegating with Dan and Jake, and Jake is proud and appreciative that the Alts gave him his true start at the chance of breeding which he has won over a 36 percent conception rate. The average rate is 34 percent. For maximum conception rate, cows should be bred at a time that will ensure that healthy, living sperm are present at the site of fertilization when the unfertilized egg arrives. To help with this, Jake uses an artificial insemination gun warmer which he carries the straws of semen in to keep it at a constant temperature instead of putting it in his shirt or pocket. The insulated battery pack keeps the temperature steadier and causes the sperm to have a better chance of being more effective. Dan is looking to retire soon, and Jake hopes to take over his farms and follow in Dan’s footsteps. Since they have been working together, Jake hopes to have a smooth transition to full time breeder eventually while he currently continues to gain experience and the farmers respect.
Jake says one of his biggest challenges is just getting to know each farm, learn their layouts, set ups, working and breeding habits, etc. Jake also hopes to pick up more farms, as he is currently doing A.I. part-time on a handful of large farms. Jake is lucky to have the Alts and Dan on his side who he can look up to, along with his wife Nicole who seems to love animals and agriculture just as much as he does. He says he hopes these new practices and changes in breeding will help farmers save time and money in the short and long run. For example, being able to use less hormone injections which will ultimately cut back on costs, along with less labor. Dave Alt reminds us that nothing in farming happens overnight, and that is why Jake is willing to work patiently with his farmers to choose the right genetic and breeding decisions to make them even more successful.
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Alts Acres: smart breeding starts with a smart breeder
by Stacey Hopkins