The onset of rains normally marks the beginning of the breeding season for most farmers relying on rain-fed agriculture.
This is because feed resources increase, enabling cows that had lost body condition or even dried during the drought period to restore it and improve their body reserves.
The cows will start cycling and come on heat ready to be bred. This is the best time for a farmer with ‘empty’ cows to start planning for their breeding, preferably using Artificial Insemination (AI).
AI is one of the technologies adopted by many dairy and beef farmers for breeding the next generation of animals.
A number of benefits are attributed to the use of the technology, among them is that one high quality bull can produce several thousand doses of semen, which can be shipped to farmers across the world.
Since the bull’s performance is evaluated and documented, farmers can select the bull that fits their desired objectives.
The technology can further be used to control reproductive diseases and that it relieves the farmer the burden of keeping and maintaining bulls that might be dangerous.
Last but not least, farmers can retain the semen and use it for a longer duration more than the bull’s lifetime. However, many farmers face the challenge of knowing when to breed the cow and how to choose the best AI bull to sire for their next generation of heifers.
The best time to breed the cow is determined by the animal’s body condition arising from feed resource availability, the milk market targeted, effectiveness in heat detection, timely response by the inseminator to serve the cow, use of quality semen and following the right procedure during insemination.
Since heat occurs in cycles of 21 days average from the previous calving or heat and lasts for 24 hours from the onset, farmers are advised to introduce the cow to heat booster mineral salt in advance and keep close watch for heat signs to know when to breed the animal.
GET COW'S PEDIGREE INFORMATION
Better results can be achieved if farmers can keep and track records. Electronic monitoring for accuracy using apps is now available for savvy farmers.
To increase conception rate, the farmer is also advised to identify an efficient, reliable inseminator who has hands on AI experience to service the animal.
For a long time, many farmers have left the noble responsibility of breeding their cows to the mercies of the inseminators, some of whom could be out to make profit at their expense.
Unfortunately, many of the farmers have also been brain-washed to believe that expensive semen is the best, which is not be the case in most instances.
A better understanding of your candidate cow, knowledge of the variety of semen available, the ability to interpret the bull catalogue to identify traits attributed to different bulls and the price of each bull’s semen remain the best tools for selecting the ideal sire of your heifers.
Prior to the service date, the farmer needs to select the bull of choice whose semen will be used for service and make payment in advance to allow the inseminator sufficient time to source for the semen.
Selection of best candidate bull is determined by factors related to the cow, semen availability and price of the semen.
First and foremost, the farmer needs to get the cow’s pedigree information and by all means avoid any bull related to her parentage.
To have this information, farmers are advised to keep individual cow cards and avail them during bull selection.
GO FOR POCKET FRIENDLY
The farmer, with the assistance of a good breeder or knowledgeable inspector, needs to identify and prioritise points of the cow that need improvement.
This include milk and milk quality relative to the cow’s or dam’s production potential.
Type traits such as shallow or surging udder, posty or sickled legs, stature, body capacity, rump angle and rump width, among others.
Once this is done, the farmer and the inseminator selects the bull of choice from the sire catalogue.
This should include identifying all bulls of the same breed with your cow, whose semen is available, bulls not related to your cow, bulls that can improve milk or beef production of their offspring and lastly, bulls that have prioritised type traits that need to be corrected on your cow.
You should also take note of any rider made on the good or bad attributes of the bull. At this time, you can then zero down to the prices of bulls that meet your requirements.
My rule of the thumb here is always go for the bull whose semen is economical (pocket friendly) as in case you need a repeat, you can comfortably meet the cost.
You can then make payment for the semen in advance and agree on the insemination.
Musyoka is based at the Department of Animal Sciences, Egerton University.