Monday, April 29, 2024

Having custom-collected semen shipped from private breeders?

  CONCEPTIONS  Beef Cow-calf newsletter         March-April 2022

Many of you have found that directing direct semen (or embryo) shipments to our office saves trouble handling shippers and insures biologicals are handled expertly (for example, we add nitrogen to vapor shippers before handling the contents so they can be transferred to your tank or our delivery tank at optimal temperature.

If you are arranging such a shipment, CALL US (or email, or text) so we can watch for it to arrive.    With all the recent craziness, shippers can get lost in the Fed EX or UPS systems, and someone has to be tracking them so they arrive safely.    We just need to know where your order is coming from, how much is coming, and we will get it into your tank  (whether stored here or at your farm).

Pooling your orders with us:  save on or eliminate shipping costs

A single shipper tank moving, say, from Hawkeye Breeders in Iowa to Michigan is costing approximately $150.     On a 20 unit order, that adds $7.50 per straw onto your purchase price…   a cost you can avoid if the bull is handled by Cattle Visions.


A cow having a calf has to be ready for delivery.   This means that her dry cow ration in the third trimester needs to be maintaining her body condition at a stable weight.  Trace mineral levels in feed need to be adequate to support good muscle function, and daily walking exercise helps to maintain good muscle tone so cow can complete the delivery without “running out of gas”.

Clean and dry calving areas.   Cows calving outside in the spring will seek out a spot by instinct, avoiding areas where another cow has already delivered.     But if it is still wintry or wet and the calvings have started, consider setting up calving pens in sheds that can be bedded dry and easily cleaned.    I have seen calving shelters on skids you haul around a paddock.

Avoid rushing deliveries.    The full calving process takes several hours from the onset of labor.   “Pulling” calves early in labor, as a convenience to your time will usually damage the cervix, and maybe even the uterus and attached muscles used in delivery, and can render cows sterile.

If it becomes necessary to assist a calving, try to accomplish this with the use of OB chains and handles (in stock in our store and elsewhere) that allow you to alternate “pull” from one leg to the other.    Pull with her contractions, rest between contractions.     Until the body is out far enough to expose the navel, when the calf may be getting squeezed at its diaphragm (affecting its ability to breathe) you do not have to hurry things.

Milk fever is always a possibility in an over-conditioned cow that is fully grown.    When dry, the metabolism shuts down its synthesizing of calcium from what producing milk requires.    If this does not start back up when cows udder up, their muscles may not contract properly to enable calving without assistance, and then the cow cannot stand up after delivery (or may go down a bit later, after nursing her calf).     You can detect this by feeling the temperature of their ears (which should be warm to be “normal”).      There are oral calcium supplements to use prior to calving, and if cows go down, your vet will have CMPK solutions that can be IV’d into the milk vein (or if highly skilled, the jugular).     Yes, this is more often a “dairy cow” problem, but it is not impossible for a good beef momma cow to have mild cases. 

Mastitis and metritis often go hand in hand.     Good levels of vitamins A, D and E insure higher levels of liver enzymes produced to “clean up” the uterus after the placenta is delivered.    But it takes up to a month for the uterus to fully involute (return to normal size and condition) after a calving; the first days after the calving the cervix will still be partially dilated, allowing drainage to leave the uterus (thus bad bugs could crawl up that stream and enter the uterus).    Because of the nutrient energy drain making an udder and shrinking the uterus demands, an infection in either organ will reduce the system’s resistance to infection in the other.    Check udders if you can, at least observe their color and texture if the cow is not keen on being handled;  mastitis is easily conquered if you catch it early, harder to deal with if you give it a chance to multiply.


Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Butterfat production is generationally accumulative

Cory Geiger, for many years editor of Hoard’s Dairyman, now Dairy analyst for an international banking system, recently released a study of the history of butterfat production in the USA.   It seems that, up to the middle 1960s, the national “blend” showed butterfat production steady around 4% of total milk production.   Then the Federal Milk order system instituted Class I milk (bottling) premiums, USDA decreed the “baby boomer” school kids would get a pint of milk per day, and nutritionists declared (erroneously) that animal fats were “bad” and vegetable oil fats were “good” (in fact, the opposite of current health research; and part of the cause for national  epidemics of obesity, heart disease and alzheimer’s).   National butterfat production dropped to 3.6% of total milk production and stayed there for forty years, far into the “multiple component pricing” transition that began in the 1980s linking butterfat and protein production as the “key” generators of dairy farm income.     Only now, based on 2022 milk marketings, has the national butterfat “herd average” regained the 4% level.    

Are you below a 4% herd average for butterfat?    Geiger’s study proves you are leaving income on the table, producing skim milk that no longer generates profit at any level of marketing.   In fact, in spite of the rise in national bf% averages the USA imported 107 million pounds of butter from our trading partners, half of that coming from Ireland…  where cows average 4.6% bf!

What is your strategy for increasing production of this most remunerative milk component?   It could improve if your feeding strategy raised the quality and quantity of forages within your ration…  however  without focusing sire genetic selection on higher butterfat% bulls, you would find progress to be quite slow.    Butterfat % is one of the top three highest heritable of all linear trait measures, at 50% heritability in most publications.    This compares to milk volume yield at 20% heritability.   The higher the heritability the more important becomes genetic selection.

Why did butterfat % yield lag 20 years behind changing sire preferences and selection indexes across the USA, in comparison to other leading dairy countries?     Part of the “fault” came from the national push to replace hay acreage with corn acreage, begun with USDA incentives in the 1970s forward for decades, followed by similar incentives for soybean production.   Cows had to “adapt” to being fed lots of corn and oilseeds, as a species originally evolved to harvest grasses and similar green forages.    Feeds that raise rumen acidity (as grain and oilseeds do) depresses butterfat (which is a product of cud chewing;   you have to have forage intake to form “cuds” of fiber needing chewing, which in turn buffer the rumen against acids from fermentation ).

Also, according to Dick Witter, retired owner and sire analyst for Taurus Service, when you look at the entire sire summary (not just the bulls pre-selected for AI marketing) there is a strong link between component production and the “round” aAa qualities, primarily 5 “Smooth” but also more dramatically when combined with 6 “Style” and a close balance between 1 “Dairy” and 4 “Strong”.   “Round” cows have more effective rumen breakdown of digestible fibers, from which butterfat is primarily produced.  Thus selection that preferred “angularity” in cows over multiple generations held back butterfat production, even when genes to support it were in the DNA.

Breed cows for what is heritable:  manage the environment to handle what isn’t

It can be confusing to keep straight what is highly heritable, what is dependent on adaptation to an environment, and what is heritable but the approach to measure it used so far is flawed.    As the typical presentation of AI bulls on websites or in catalogs follows an abbreviated “one size fits all” format dictated by Genomics, it can be harder to identify the bulls that have specific qualities you are needing in a generation where those characteristics were missed in sire selection.

Should we keep breeding cows to match an “ideal” theoretical environment, or would it make more sense to address real problems we see in individuals within the context of the environment they live in?    Should we follow indexes that are producing “generic” milk, or pay attention to trends in the dairy marketplace?

Economists tell us the secret to profitable commodity production is to be a least cost producer.    Let us help you breed for profitability instead of generic milk and throwaway cows.                           Mich Livestock Service, Inc        

Monday, April 22, 2024

Is the trouble environmental? Or is it genetic??

CONCEPTIONS  Dairy route newsletter                 May-June 2024 

As the AI industry transitioned from an inseminator “service” focus into its growth phase as a “genetics marketing” focus, and the theories of “genetic ranking” created a framework for the competition between AI sources and their sires, the tendency grew to blame “environment” (or “herd management”)  for most things that occurred when individual animals failed to persist, or failed to stay healthy, or became harder to breed back, or just did not live long enough.

An entire new “hoof care” industry of full-time trimmers and foot bath engineers arose.  Getting cows to breed spawned “OvSynch” protocols.    Veterinarians adapted to “production medicine” techniques to cope with the health of cow herds transitioning from a hay-based to a corn-based feeding regime (fresh cow ketosis followed by D/As, for example).     Nutritionists steadily added new energy-dense additives to rations to cope with lack of body condition and slow rebreeding.

How did the AI industry behave through all this?    First, they took “genetic” credit for all gains in milk yield (ignoring the transformative feeding technologies you were adapting), -- and Second, denied all responsibility for bad legs, lame feet, bad teat placement, slow reproduction, difficult calvings, because “we have the best genetics, you just have to learn to manage them.”

Here is the basic rule of thumb for who you blame for what goes wrong.    If your entire herd has the problem, look for an environmental (or management) cause.   But- if only individual animals have the problem, while others do not, look to genetics as the cause.    At its basics, “genetics” is just comparative statistics.    Deviation above or below “herd average” for not just milk, but for any aspect of cow behavior (or anything you can blame on a lack of adaptation to your environment) has an inheritable cause.    Random sire selection can cause these problems.

The only time “genetics” could create a problem across the herd is the accumulative effects of “single trait” selection.   Whenever only one thing (for example, seeking the maximum “index”) dictates the sires you use, this allows all genes not considered to accumulate negative behavior.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Spring breeding is in progress all around our route

 CONCEPTIONS   Beef cow-calf newsletter                           May June 2024

Inside is a review of the estrus cycle, and how to time your inseminations to get an acceptable conception rate.     
Here is an extra tip:   If seeking bull calves, breed as late as possible in the cycle.   The male sperm cells are heavier than female, and as they will all wake up and be swimming about after you thaw the straw, the heavier male sperm cell expends more energy in the process.    Thus, they will have a shorter life in utero than the female sperm.
Breeding later  (like waiting until the cow refuses further mounting activity)  gives you higher percentages of live male sperm as they come in contact with the cow’s ovum (egg), thus increasing chances of a winning steer calf in next year’s crop.
Charlie Palen began his AI career in 1952.    He sent Greg to his AI school in 1969, and here it is 55 years later;  even with Charlie gone, we are still helping people get cows bred.
Mich Livestock Service, Inc.    “For the Best in Bulls”  ( a complete AI service )  989/ 834- 2661

New technology option for natural heat detection

CONCEPTIONS   Beef cow-calf newsletter                           May June 2024

Mark Curry     (989) 984- 7027     Route service and sales

Sue Palen        (989) 834- 2661     Office manager and Order desk

Greg Palen      (989) 277- 6031     Certified Seed Specialist;  AI refresher training

Ashleigh MacNeil                           AI Training consultant

We just learned of this.    It is called  “HEAT SIECKER”.    Equipment consists of a radio antenna, glue-on patches, and glue…    The patches send a radio signal to the antenna  (at your monitor location)  indicating each mounting activity.    This signal has reached one to two miles in trials, and (like cell phone signals) is not hampered by lacking a “line of sight” contact.    The patches have batteries with about four month life; the patches themselves can withstand a year being outside in the weather  (so you can rotate them from spring cows to fall cows).
Mark and I thought at first glance, the technology is a bit expensive:   You buy the antenna for $1399 (good for a working lifetime).    Patches, sold in boxes of ten, are $29.75 each.   The glue is $ 9.50 per bottle  (does 8-9 head).    THEN there is a data plan, $560 per year (or $360 if you just buy a 4 month breeding season) -- I assume you download that on your farm computer, but the idea of getting heat messages on your cell phone  (so you could plan insemination times “in the moment”)  was mentioned.
Testimonials to-date suggest superiority to either synchronizing or human heat detection.   One herd in South Dakota with 300 cows experienced a 16% increase in conception.     (Dairy farms with in-barn systems often report the same, but electronics for outdoor/pasture heat detection is a new development we will be watching).
The developer, Brent Siecker, can be reached at or ph (402) 418- 2790. 

In  the  meantime …

We stock CIDR inserts for timed breeding,  and we also stock ESTRO TECH stick-on patches for enhancing visual natural heat detection.     Both are relatively affordable options.
Brush  up  your  heat  detection  and  AI  techniques  for  spring  

Heat detection

Cows cycle anywhere from 17 to 24 days, with most hitting 21 days.    Heifers should begin cycling soon after reaching one year of age (heritage breeds slower, pushed genetic selection breeds earlier).     “Cycling” begins on one of the ovaries when the most developed “follicle” releases estrogen into the bloodstream, which excites the cow/heifer to be more attentive to companion animals.   This excitement raises blood pressure slightly, resulting in a similar rise in body temperature, as blood flows into the reproductive tract.
Engorgement of the repro tract (on the side of the mentioned active ovary) will flow into that uterine horn;  if you palpate the tract, you will feel one horn enlarged and “lifting” up from the membrane holding the womb in place.   You will see a swelling of the vulva on the rear of the cow, and “pheronomes” (an odor that other animals will smell) will draw attention from others.  Over the next hours of visible mounting activity, this engorgement will move rearward, enlarge the cervix, stimulating it to release a thin mucus that cleanses and lubricates the vaginal canal.    
Toward the end of standing heat, when the cervix is fully “dilated”, the AI technique is easiest.   (If you enter the cow in earlier stages of estrus, you run into the engorged uterine horn, while the cervix will be hiding underneath and bent upward to the lifting horn structure.)    Standing heat can last up to twelve hours, and it rarely pays to inseminate with frozen semen in earlier stages (the sperm cells will wear themselves out swimming around inside the body before the egg is actually released from the ovarian surface).     
Basically, the entire process of estrus is designed to force release of an egg at the end of all the excitement.   In natural service, the bull’s thrusting will stimulate the clitoris.  The nerves send a signal to the pituitary gland in the base of the brain to release “lutenizing” hormone into blood circulation, and this causes the ovarian follicle to rupture, releasing that egg to travel down the “fallopian tube”.      The sperm cells will already be in the fallopian region waiting for the egg to arrive.     They begin rubbing their heads against the shell of the egg, until the enzymes coating both acrosomal caps (sperm) and ovum (egg) dissolve and a single sperm enters; this completes fertilization (conception takes place) and a new genotype is formed in the shell.   As the embryo develops it moves down the tubes into the uterine horn, attaches to the sticky uterine wall and goes through the continuous cell division that transforms into a fetus.
Good AI technique will mimic the design of nature

Because sperm that has been frozen and rethawed will only live up to twelve hours after AI, and the release of the egg can also take up to twelve hours after the end of standing heat, breeding later in the heat is best.   To insure ovulation, it is best to practice clitoral stimulation after the AI gun is removed, so that nature’s signals are met.    Work with nature is always the best practice.