Editor’s note: This tip is provided by Vance Kells, Dairy Calf and Heifer Association (DCHA) South Central Regional Director and manager of Circle Bar Heifer Ranch LLC, a 10,000-head custom-rearing facility in western Kansas. 

“One of the biggest mistakes in breeding heifers is the mishandling of semen. You can be the best AI tech in the world, but if all the sperm cells are dead your conception rate isn't going to be very good.

“One of the common mistakes I see are employees rushing through breeding time so that they can get to the next job they have for the day. Here at our ranch, we have two to three people working two to four hours a day on breeding. We walk behind about 800 heifers every day. We have two full time technicians on staff, and they have another helper in front of the head locks with the dairy comp sheet telling them information as needed. Each heifer is looked at and paint is touched up on an as needed basis. We put a lot of effort into breeding and we see above average conception rates.

“When a heifer is determined to be ready to breed, the AI techs go through a strict protocol every time. They first determine which bull to use. Then they warm their guns and their sheath's with friction from a paper towel. They then stick gun and sheath into their shirt or pants to start the semen thawing process. We thaw two units for 30 seconds. A digital timer is used to measure the time. We only take two loaded guns per trip to breed the heifers. The AI techs then go to breed the two heifers. On one side of the hips, we write the date with paint, and on the other side, the last four digits of the sire's number. I know we have all seen people take five to 15 guns to mass breed, but I think that is a mistake.

“I know that we put in a lot of time and effort into our breeding program, but I feel that we are getting paid to do a job, and we have chosen what we think is the best protocol to settle the most heifers for our customers.”

Source: Dairy Calf and Heifer Association