Reproduction in the dairy industry has dramatically changed, with most dairies having no difficulty supplying needed replacement animals. This has led to many producers changing how they breed cows. The vast majority artificially inseminate all cows and heifers, and many choose to use sexed semen on their highest-producing animals. Some producers have also started embryo transfer to have the highest quality replacements. These great advancements allow genetic improvement to progress much faster and open the door to taking advantage of extra animals for increased revenue. Many dairies already use beef semen on some animals to produce a higher-value beef-dairy cross. Unfortunately, these beef crosses have challenges, including not being as desirable to feedlots and packers as their full beef cousins.
One way to overcome this disparity is to utilize full beef embryos inseminated with high-quality Angus semen into cows. This allows for the selection of important beef traits such as calving ease and ribeye area. Studies have shown little impact on conception and pregnancy rates in comparison to traditional artificial insemination. It is recommended to use beef embryos in younger cows and on the first and second service. Packers and feedlots will establish a premium on these calves due to their efficient gain and group uniformity. There is also value added in the improved grading of the full beef versus the crossbred. Feedlots appreciate the year-round nature of most dairies, which ensures a steady supply of beef calves entering the feedlot.
If a farm is not currently utilizing embryo transfer, changes must be made to add this to a reproduction program. Technicians specially trained in embryo transfer will need to be added to your team. It can be more time-consuming than traditional artificial insemination; incorporating a program into the overall system will help avoid disruption to the routine of cows and people. Embryos are implanted 6-8 days after a cow shows heat. For example, many people choose to synchronize heats with a hormone protocol for ease in implanting embryos. It is also crucial that recipient cows are in good body condition and that they can be maintained on the same ration before and after implantation, ideally for a minimum of 8 weeks. Cows should be on a good mineral supplementation program to improve the rate of success.
While there are significant inputs into utilizing beef embryos, a premium can be realized after marketing these great beef calves. Building a relationship with a feedlot or grower can help ensure the calves have a place to go and increase profitability. Adding beef embryos to your reproduction strategy can be a great way to get more out of your dairy cows.