When it comes to next year's calf crop, many cattle producers see turning herd bulls out with their cows and heifers as the most efficient option. However, Taylor Grussing, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist encourages them to examine the costs of AI (artificial insemination) before making a final decision.

"Many see turning out herd bulls as a time-saver because breeding season falls during a busy time of year," explains Taylor Grussing, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist. "It's important to remember that there are alternative ways to introduce new genetics of superior quality into your herd each year without purchasing new bulls."

Buying bulls, Grussing said isn't always the easiest or most cost effective option. She explained that there are several resources available to assist producers in getting cows bred during the breeding season with the use of AI and custom AI services.

"If a cattle producer is thinking about utilizing AI this breeding season, it may not be as costly as one might think compared to the cost of natural service," Grussing said. "AI can be a relatively simple and cost effective way to invest in new genetics for your herd without bringing home a new bull each year."

Below she outlines a few of these options.

SDSU Extension AI Schools

SDSU Extension hosts AI schools each year across the state for participants to attend and learn its techniques and proper semen handling. These 3-day schools, cost $400 to register and are open to anyone across the country. "These schools, along with others hosted in the industry, are the best place to learn how to successfully AI and then implement this technology into the herd yourself," Grussing said.

Custom AI Companies

For producers who are not interested in AI-ing (inseminating) their herd themselves, Grussing reminds folks that there are several custom AI companies available to help. 

"In addition, custom collection of herd sires can be selected to further increase the number of progeny from a specific herd sire," she explained. "Service providers can take care of as much or as little of the work as desired with price varying based on the resources used ranging from $43 - $122 per head assuming a 65% 1st service conception rate (Table 1)."

Table 1. Estimates for Custom AI costs per head, broke down into high, low and average categories.

Supplies High Low Average
Materials
(gloves, sheaths, lube, paper towels, etc.)
$5.00 $1.00 $3.00
Technician Labor
(arm service only)
$10.00 $5.00 $7.50
Synchronization Labor $6.00 $3.00 $4.50
Equipment/Chute Fee $3.00 $1.00 $2.00
Synchronization Drug Cost $20.00 $3.00 $11.50
Semen Cost
(highly variable)
$35.00 $15.00 $25.00
Total Cost per Head $79.00 $28.00 $53.50
Total Cost per Pregnancy 
(Assuming 65% 1st Service Conception Rate)
$122 $43 $82
 

What to consider

When considering whether herd bulls or AI is the best option for your herd, Grussing encourages producers to consider the following variables:

  • Number of head in group: larger groups may cost less per head
  • Location of service: clinic vs. on farm
  • Equipment: do you have your own chute/breeding box or do you need to rent one?
  • Experience of Technician: more experience may cost more but return better results
  • Amount of Labor: arm service only vs. synchronization + arm service
  • Type of protocol used: Fixed Timed AI vs. Estrus Detection & Clean up AI
  • Amount of semen purchased: volume discounts available with large purchases

Cost Considerations

When comparing the expenses of AI School and custom AI fees with the average price of purchasing a new herd sire in 2016, producers have some decisions to make based on the goals of the operation.

Grussing said the cost per pregnancy from a $5000 herd sire averages about $195 in year 1 versus an average of $82 per pregnancy from AI. To figure out this cost, the numbers she used are as follows:

  • Annual maintenance cost $900;
  • Salvage value $2,000;

Resulting in an average of 20 calves per year. "If this bull provides service for 4 years, then the average cost per pregnancy drops to $83 per calf," Grussing said. Grussing encourages producers to visit with reproductive specialists to define the genetic goals of their operation and also access what resources they have available to see how AI can be incorporated into the herd successfully.