Fixed Time Program Pleases Braidwood Beef Man

John Roberts puts his in-calf heifers out on hilly country to get them fit before calving. As a result, he says, he doesn’t pull many calves.

With his wife Fay, Roberts runs up to 600 head of black cattle at Braidwood, NSW. They moved out of Herefords in the 1980s and are now constantly on the lookout for incremental improvements that will add to the bottom line.

Two years ago, after a chance meeting with a vet who was a proponent of Fixed Time Artificial Insemination (FTAI), Roberts decided to give it a try over about 100 heifers. He liked what he saw the first year and is repeating the process this season.

“About 50 per cent of them got in calf to AI through the sync program, which is a pretty good outcome. We got a compressed calving period with them, which gives us a run of early growth young cattle.”

Roberts wants to lift the quality of the gene pool in his herd to get better muscling and quicker weight gain.

“We chose to use the high ranking ABS bull, Millah Murrah KLOONEY K42. That’s one of the advantages of an AI program – we can choose high quality bulls that get the genetic gain going.”

KLOONEY is also a good calving ease bull to use with heifers. He is one of many elite sires ABS is sourcing locally and internationally and making available to the commercial industry.

Local vet, John Sullivan, manages the synchronisation program and does the insemination work. He sees many benefits in a fixed time process for beef producers, not least of which is the ‘whole of breeding life’ benefits from getting heifers in calf earlier.

“The earlier we can get a heifer in calf, the more chance we have of getting her in calf next time because the earlier she calves the more time she has to recover before the next conception,” said Dr Sullivan. The greatest trap he sees is females getting in calf later and later because they are trying to recover their fertility. This becomes a chronic, lifetime problem with lost productivity snowballing each year.

A distinct difference between fixed time AI and a normal AI program is the reduced labour requirement as no heat detection is required with FTAI.

“Producers who have tried AI programs are often concerned about the labour requirement with staff needed to detect heats and many small yardings,” said Dr Sullivan.

With FTAI a manageable mob of up to 100 cattle can be processed in three yardings over a 10 day period.

“If numbers are larger the mob can be split and done in two lots.

“It’s a very easy program to implement. The heifers are synced in a single session and then inseminated 10 days later. There’s usually about a six hour window in which to get the whole mob done,” he said.

Most of the cost of medication for the FTAI program is offset by the reduced labour costs.

By bringing calving forward and delivering a group of young cattle with uniform weaning weights, producers can expect a sales benefit that far outweighs the extra effort in managing a more concentrated AI program.

“A well muscled, uniform group of young cattle with good traits get a quick sale,” said Roberts. “With these ones it took about 40 seconds for the buyer to make a decision.”

The benefits of the FTAI program are not so much about the number of females in calf but about improving the genetic profile of the herd over a number of years.

“The fixed time AI program changes the structure of the herd over time,” said Dr Sullivan. “We see increased weight gain, fewer calving problems and better prices, especially where large numbers are involved.

“There is a significant economic gain and benefits flow on to heifers at their next joining.”

John Roberts is pleased with the program so far and plans to continue it with his heifers for the foreseeable future.

“It will help us to upgrade the gene pool in our cattle and improve the genetic base.

“The cattle in calf to AI are a very good product to sell when they are surplus to our requirements and the replacements we need each year.”