Okay we are all grown ups here so it’s time for “the talk”. Reproduction is one of the basics of life and livestock farmers count on it to improve the health of their animals, acquire replacements and increase the size of their herds.
Cattle have been domesticated for hundreds of years. There are no wild dairy cows to be found. Modern day cows have an estrus cycle of 21 days and a gestation period of 9 months. A cow isn’t shy about letting a farmer know that she is in estrus (heat). She will bellow, “ride” (jump on) other cows’ rumps and let other cows jump on her up to 55 times during this period. She is wanting to get bred.
*Vegas in a “standing heat”
A bovine is born either a male (bull) or a heifer (female). Heifers start cycling and are typically bred for the first time at 13-16 months of age if they have met the target size. Add a 9 month gestation on to that and they will have their first calf at around 2 years of age when they are full grown. When a heifer has a calf she becomes a cow and produces milk for the first time. Veterinarians continually monitor a cow’s reproductive health and a farmer plays close attention to a cow’s diet and body condition before any attempt to breed a cow is made. When the decision is made to breed a cow the farmer has the choice of using a bull or artificial insemination (A.I.). Our farm uses A.I. but it comes down to the individual farmer’s breeding goals and management style. Both methods have their benefits. In fact some farmers use both. I will outline some of the reasons why we use A.I. on our farm:
*a straw of semen
A full grown mature Holstein bull is not a pet. In fact I had a family member killed by his “pet” bull. Sure they start out as cute little calves, but in a couple of years Holstein bulls become massive beasts standing up to 65″ at the shoulder and weighing in at 1,600 lbs. Proper housing facilities, handler training and experience are needed when working with bulls. Proper footing is also an important consideration when you are using bulls to breed cows. You really need to brace yourself when 1,600 lbs mounts your back! That being said, some farmers routinely use bulls to breed their dairy cattle without major issues. They just need to be very careful.
Sexual transmitted diseases are not just a human problem. STDs are alive and well in the animal world too. STDs can be shared between bulls and cows during breeding and they can cause reproductive mayhem in a herd. Artificial insemination avoids this problem. In fact, bull semen is stored in liquid nitrogen at down to -300 degrees Fahrenheit and not many diseases can survive temperatures that cold. Semen is also screened before it is used for breeding.
IMPROVING THE NEXT GENERATION
The goal on livestock farms is to make the next generation of cows stronger, healthier and superior to the current cows in the herd. With artificial insemination a farmer can play match maker and pick a specific bull to breed each cow or they can use a computer program to do it for them. It is amazing what kinds of traits you can use to improve your herd . For example, you can choose a bull that will give the next generation a better set of feet and legs or a stronger immune system . The resulting offspring will potentially have a longer and healthier life. You can even used sexed semen to greatly increase the chances of having heifer calves.
With A.I. there is no need to house and feed your own bull for breeding. A.I. bulls are housed at their own quarantined barn where they are pampered beyond belief. I simply make a phone call and a skilled technician will come breed my cow with the bull of my choice. Alternately, a farmers can store bull semen in a tank and breed their own cattle at their convenience.
Reproduction is an important part of every dairy farm. Just remember that a healthy cow is a fertile cow and THATS NO BULL. 🐃
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