Use of artificial insemination is growing in U.S. beef herds, but some of our international competitors are pulling ahead in application of AI for genetic advancement, Willie Altenburg told participants at last week’s BIF conference. Altenburg is a seedstock producer, operating Altenburg Super Baldy ranch near Fort Collins, Colo., and is associate vice president, beef marketing, for Genex Cooperative. He outlined key trends in AI and genetic selection in some of the top beef-producing and beef-exporting countries.
In the United States, he says, about 3.7 million units of bull semen are collected each year, but not all are used. Altenburg estimates about 2.5 million units actually see use in AI procedures. With about 31 million cows in the United States, less than 5 percent are bred using AI. Altenburg says the percentage of the nation’s 5.5 million heifers that are bred using AI is higher, about 15 percent, due to easier estrus synchronization and the importance of calving ease in heifers.
With about 4.3 million beef cows, mostly concentrated in the southern portions of the Prairie Provinces, the percentage of AI breeding in Canada is similar to that in the United States. Canadian producers use EPDs and tend to select for growth traits and relatively large cow size.
Australia is the world’s second-largest beef exporter, behind Brazil. Producers there, Altenburg says, are focused on exports rather than domestic consumption, and that focus drives much of their genetic selection. Australian producers make heavy use of AI, with a focus on EPDs for carcass traits, especially in the temperate regions of New South Wales where English breeds dominate. Much of the genetics in Australian Angus cattle originally came from the United States.
Stretching a long distance from north to south, Argentina features a wide range of climates and production environments. Angus-based cattle are common in the temperate south, with high-quality Braford cattle dominant in the more tropical northern regions. The people of Argentina are big beef eaters, and consume virtually all the beef the country produces. Ranchers make considerable use of AI, with a genetic emphasis on muscling.
With about 53.8 million beef cows, Brazil is the biggest beef exporter in the world. Like Argentina, Brazil has diverse climates that dictate cattle breeds and production systems. Producers in the south of the country primarily raise English cattle, while cow herds in the tropical Amazon region are almost exclusively Nelore – a Bos indicus breed that is well adapted to the intense heat and humidity. Use of AI is relatively high in Brazil, Altenburg says, in part because of low labor costs for synchronization programs. He estimates that Brazil imports about 5 million units of semen from the U.S. each year.
Much of the semen Brazilian producers import is from Angus sires, which they use to breed Nelore cows. Their focus is on improving eating quality of calves in a terminal-cross system, but the extremely hot and humid climate rules out raising Angus bulls for natural service. They select Angus AI sires primarily for carcass traits, and do not worry much about birth weights. The Nolore cows are so well adapted, Altenburg says, that calving difficulties are almost non-existant.
In a Q&A after his presentation, a participant asked Altenburg how U.S. seedstock breeders can find markets to sell semen overseas. “Know your customer.” He said, recommending breeders travel to other beef-producing countries. “Know what producers in the country need to export successfully.