Borders beef student demo at AgriScot

John Elliot at home on Roxburgh Mains, near Kelso with an Aberdeen Angus bull
John Elliot at home on Roxburgh Mains, near Kelso with an Aberdeen Angus bull

COMMERCIAL beef producers could cut costs and boost profits using artificial insemination (AI) was the message from Borders experts to AgriScot at Ingliston last week.

Top Aberdeen Angus breeder John Elliot of Roxburgh Mains, Kelso and beef industry expert, SRUC’s Dr Basil Lowman, Nisbet, Jedburgh staged a popular main ring demonstration at the one-day event last Wednesday involving Oatridge students dressed as semen and cow reproductive organs, with the ring as the cow’s womb.

Dr Lowman said: “It was good fun and the students enjoyed it. The biggest problem we had was getting the boys to dress up as female sperm!”

The point was to explain why professionals gathered so many AI straws from a single bull mount and why cows were artificially inseminated 12 hours after they were in heat, he said.

The team also demonstrated what happened when a bull served the cow and when she received AI.

Organiser Mr Elliot said cost conscious commercial beef producers could increase profit by using semen from proven, top performing bulls, rather than take the “leap of faith” buying a bull.

“Clearly, there are herd health benefits too, particularly for those breeding their own replacements and operating a closed herd policy – why jeopardise that by bringing in a bull?”

For AI to work best in a suckler herd, cows needed to be synchronised to bring them into season at the same time, said Mr Elliot.

“This brings benefits of a tight calving period, meaning lower labour costs. It also ensures larger numbers of similar aged calves, resulting in bigger and more even batches which attract a premium in the market.”

He told the ringside crowd: “Sexed semen is also a tool available to beef farmers, and could be particularly useful to farmers who would like to breed replacement heifers from their best cows sired by bulls from specialist maternal breeds.”

As part at the event, semen suppliers Cogent Breeding also told the audience how semen is harvested and processed on their elite stud farms.

AgriScot director, Mr Elliot, who has used AI on his famous Rawburn herd for decades, said he hoped suckler cow keepers who saw the demonstration would consider using AI: “It can save bull power and money. It allows producers to select different breeds or different bulls within a breed to produce calves targeted specifically at either a terminal or a maternal end point,” he said.

Dr Lowman said: “AI has a lot of benefits- the quality of the bull, herd health, flexibility.”

In dairy herds, where up to 90 percent use AI, it was easy to implement because cows are being handled twice a day, but for suckler herds it could be less so said Dr Lowman.