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Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Genetic merit of AI bulls is tied to semen price

Dairy Pipeline: June 2003

Bennet Cassell
Extension, Dairy Scientist
Genetics and Management
(540) 2231-4762

Most producer meetings or dairy publications today include something about estrus syncronization. Everybody wants help getting cows bred. Heat detection is tough in high producing herds housed primarily on concrete because the cows aren't very active. Timed AI is attractive because there are plenty of other uses for the labor that visual heat detection requires. Medication for estrus syncronization can run from $12 to $20 or more per cow. Unfortunately, too many producers get to the end of that investment and use inexpensive semen to breed the cow. Inexpensive doesn't necessarily mean $10 semen here, but half of that or less in too many cases. Perhaps, if the protocol is new and untested on a farm, or if the cows themselves are problem breeders, lower cost semen for one or two groups is justified. As a routine practice, one has to wonder if syncronization is worth it when inferior bulls are used. Semen price and genetic merit aren't perfectly related, but they do tend to move together. The table below is from the February 2003 USDA genetic evaluations. Prices are "suggested retail", subject to negotiation, but are in line with what producers would pay AI suppliers.

Price per unit of semen Number of Holstein bulls in this price range and above the 80th percentile for Net Merit Percent of all Holstein bulls in this price range that are above the 80th percentile for Net Merit
$40 and up 11 65%
$30 to $39 20 47%
$25 to $29 35 47%
$20 to $24 60 41%
$15 to $19 36 18%
Less than $15 11 7%

The table shows the number of active AI Holstein bulls in the top 20% of their breed for Net Merit, an index that uses production, longevity, Somatic Cell Score, and type to predict lifetime economic merit. Of the 148 Holstein bulls with semen priced at $15 or less, only 11 are in the top 20% for Net Merit, and they may not be available from a supplier or not suit a breeding program for other reasons. Not interested in using bulls that high up the Net Merit scale? Only 15 of the bulls in the last category are above the 70th percentile, and dropping standards to the 60th percentile adds just 11 more. Two thirds of the bulls priced below $15 are in the bottom half of active AI bulls. Young sires currently in major AI sampling programs are a better bet for genetic improvement than bulls below the 50th percentile. Dairy cows have to get pregnant to be profitable and obviously, many dairy farmers are willing to go to considerable trouble to get them pregnant. Just keep in mind that pregnant is good for the cow, but pregnant to a good AI bull is good for the cow AND the herd in the years to come.

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