Press-Republican

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March 17, 2013

Improving beef with better bulls

This past week, I hosted a meeting of beef producers to talk about selecting a bull to improve meat quality. Dr. Mike Baker, Cornell University Beef Cattle Extension Specialist, talked about the criteria for selecting the proper bull. Since most beef farmers in our area are relatively small, finding a bull with good genetics, a record of good health and performance along with proven ability to transfer good traits to his sons and daughters is often too expensive. 

All too often, a small beef farm will settle for a local bull with very little proven ability. One solution to this would be the use of artificial insemination (AI).

While the majority of dairy cows are bred artificially, beef cattle pose some special problems that keep many producers from giving it a try. I too was guilty of taking the easy way out and using a bull, probably costing me more in the long term. Using a bull, even out of a good herd, is still a gamble. Not just from a genetic standpoint, but safety as well.

In my small herd of beef cows, I have a mix of several breeds. With no way easy to separate them, a single herd bull would breed them all, thus putting all my eggs in one basket, so to speak. While there is nothing wrong with a little crossbreeding, in one or two years time, all the breeding stock will be daughters and the bull will have to be replaced. The advantage of artificial breeding is that you are able to select from a list of bulls each with distinct and proven characteristics.

The first challenge of breeding beef cattle with AI is that they are usually roaming freely in large pastures, often out of sight and far from any barns. The first step is to build or modify existing facilities to round up and securely catch the cattle. Since beef cattle are seldom handled, these facilities need to be extra sturdy.

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