A retrospective analysis of bull:cow ratio effects on pregnancy rates of beef cows previously enrolled in fixed-time artificial insemination protocols

Abstract

This retrospective study aimed to determine if the number of cows exposed per bull affects pregnancy rates of cows returning to estrus after fixed-time artificial insemination (FTAI). Data were compiled over the course of 13 breeding seasons (six fall and seven spring seasons) between 2010 and 2017 from the Virginia Department of Corrections herd. Available records contained data from 17 farms and 324 groups of cows (average 47 cows/group). Multiparous cows and heifers (average age per group: 5.11 +/- 0.14 yr; n = 14,868) were exposed to FTAI. After FTAI, animals were placed on pasture with bulls diagnosed as fertile by a breeding soundness exam for natural service of cows who did not become pregnant to FTAI (n = 7,248; average 22 cows/group). Animals were classified as pregnant to FTAI, to natural service on first return to estrus, or to natural service on second or subsequent estrus determined by fetal aging at pregnancy diagnosis. The bull:cow ratio for the total number of cows exposed ranged from 1:9 to 1:73 with an average of 1:31. The bull:cow ratio considering only open cows exposed after FTAI ranged from 1:2 to 1:44 with an average of 1:14. There was significant negative, small correlation between the bull:cow ratio for total number of cows exposed and return to estrus pregnancy rate in fall breeding seasons (P = 0.01, r(2) = 0.04) but not in spring (P = 0.90). There was a significant negative, small correlation between bull:cow ratio of open cows exposed and pregnancy rates to first return to estrus in fall herds with a single sire (P < 0.001, r(2) = 0.11). There was no correlation in fall herds using multiple sires or spring herds (P = 0.12). Bull:cow ratio accounted for only 1-11% of variation in the pregnancy rates, thus we conclude that a decreased bull:cow ratio (up to 1:73) did not affect natural service return to estrus pregnancy rate. Cattlemen may consider a reduced number of bulls needed for natural service breeding after FTAI, which can decrease bull related costs and increase the economic feasibility of adopting FTAI protocols.

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Keywords
bull, cow ratio, fixed-timed artificial insemination
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