Cattle have always been part of my life. When I was 14, my dad more or less turned over control of the beef cattle operation to me. That meant I got to make all the decisions that went into genetics and management for the cowherd. The first thing I decided to do was make use of artificial insemination (AI) in our beef cows like we had always done with our dairy herd. Since it was my decision, it was also my responsibility. I talked someone into actually breeding the cows for me, because I was a wimp. All I did was decide which ones to breed and which bull to use. I soon discovered that the hardest part of doing the job well involved heat detection. You had to stand around watching them until a cow was in heat and then write down her identification number. To do it well, you really needed to spend a couple hours per day doing heat detection. The best time of day for it is at daybreak and dusk.
In 1990, I went to a class to learn how to breed the cows myself after my previous AI technician showed up incapacitated too many times in a row the previous year. He was not adding to my equation for success.
Since then, I’ve used a few new tricks along the way to do a better job and build a better meal for my customers. Standard conception rates for AI run around 55 to 60%. My conception rate is usually around 65 to 75%. Some of the credit goes to the improved genetics that years of AI have brought me. You want to play in the World Series, get yourself some high-quality talent to play the game at that level.
In 1990, I also added heat synchronization to the program. That involves getting the cows in heat over a couple days instead of the usual 21 days. My work schedule is cut in half or more for only about $5 per head.
One of the keys to getting cows pregnant is knowing which ones should be bred when. A tool that I have used in the past is called the Kamar heat detector (kamarinc.com). It’s a small, oval-shaped cloth patch with a giant plastic bubble in the center of it. The bubble is white. Inside the plastic bubble is some red ink. The patch is glued on the back of the cow just ahead of her tail. When she’s in heat and other cows ride her, the pressure on the bubble bursts the inside layer of plastic and allows the red ink to fill the outer, heavier layer. The bubble appears red. You go out to look at your herd, and the red bubbles are the ones to breed. The white ones aren’t ready yet. The difference between the two is pretty obvious from a fair distance. It’s almost idiot-proof. I’m almost an idiot, so that’s right up my alley.
The biggest problem with synchronization is that it’s difficult to be able to write down which cows are in heat when there are a boatload of them coming in heat all at once. If each cow looked different, it might not be so bad. Good genetics make them look similar, though. Try walking into a group of 120 black cows and remembering which one was the one that just got ridden when 40 of them are active.
About five years ago, I started using another heat detection gadget called the Bovine Beacon. The concept is similar to the Kamar, but it has a small difference. The patch is diamond-shaped and slightly larger than a Kamar. The Bovine Beacon uses technology from the folks at Cyalume Technologies, your friendly Defense Department contractor. Oh, P.S., that means when the bubble bursts and fills with ink, the ink GLOWS IN THE DARK!
So, let’s say you get your cows bred one night and go out to the rest of the herd to detect heat. More heats occur in the early night hours than at 2:00 in the afternoon. With Kamars, you’d better carry a flashlight if you’re working late. With the handy-dandy Bovine Beacon, though, it’s just bizarre.
The first night I went out to the pasture, I thought someone was out there in a vehicle. There were brake lights on the horizon. Next thing I know, the lights went in two separate directions! The following night, when the synchronization was really kicking in, there were 18 cows in heat. Just imagine what 18 separate little neon-red lights on a bunch of kindergartners full of Mountain Dew and cotton candy would look like. That was my pasture that night. The next day I had 33 cows in heat, so the madness intensified.
Sometimes, because of the weather, the only pasture available for my cows during the breeding season is the one way in the back of the farm with no neighbors and no road nearby. This year, I want to make sure that the one right along 285th Street is free. Nothing like running a few cars into the ditch when they drive by and see my cows doing some kind of avant-garde performance art. “Hello and welcome to Bovine Mooooomenschantz!” Dude, maybe I could get an NEA grant to pay for the Bovine Beacons!
Actually, if that happened, I’d use my funding to add a new feature to the Bovine Beacons. You know how you open up some greeting cards and they play a tune? Well, I’d think it wouldn’t be that tough to add a microchip like that to a Bovine Beacon. When adequate pressure is placed on the Beacon, music fills the air. A little Barry White, maybe.
To stay ahead, a guy always has to be thinking.
Guy No. 2