Tag Archives: research

“Think Tank” on Cattle Reproductive Technology

Want to make a first-year graduate student feel really dumb? Put him in a room with several leading researchers in his field of study and ask what he learned. Talk about a challenge. Luckily I didn’t have to actually get up and speak, but it was encouraging enough to sit in on the “Think Tank” known as the Roy A Wallace Bovine Reproduction Symposium held recently in Columbus, Ohio.

Researchers from universities across the country gathered here to present their research in cattle reproduction to their peers. There were definitely some great questions raised and some challenging discussion took place, but that’s what is supposed to happen when you gather in a “Think Tank.” The Universities of Idaho, Missouri, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, and more were represented in this group.

Research of Cattle Reproduction

We have come a long ways in the past few decades when it comes to managing cattle reproduction. We are now able to synchronize estrus in cattle and consistently make 50%+ conception rates from artificial insemination (AI) in herds across the country. Now researchers are to the point of learning how to critique these methods and adapt them to environmental effects.

Most of these researchers presented their findings on critiques to estrus synchronization in cows, influencing the timing of ovulation with fewer injections and getting more cows bred on time. I was really impressed at how consistently breeding rates remain around 50% across the country with the use of AI.

Nutrition is obviously a huge part of successful pregnancies in cattle. We have to “Feed ‘em to breed ‘em!” There are more folks looking at nutrition management of heifers and bulls in early life and how feeding strategies affect long-term reproductive performance. This definitely ties in with my research of how nutrition while the calf is still in utero affects its performance throughout life.

Application of Reproduction Research

Our biggest challenge is making these tools most applicable to everyday cattle producers. The synchronization protocols are more affordable than ever before and only require running cattle through the chute 3 times in most instances. This can be a huge pay-off for a cattle producer looking to add higher-quality genetics in his herd without purchasing a bull. It’s also a great tool for producing a more uniform set of calves in a tighter window of time.

The most entertaining story I heard centered around the influence on temperament (attitude) of cattle on breeding rates. Apparently hot-headed, excited Brahman cattle in Florida don’t have great conception rates to AI. Part of this might have something to do with handling methods that get cattle excited on large ranches where cattle are only handed a few times each year. Heat, stress, handling, disease, and diet are just a few of the environmental factors affecting reproductive success.

One concern that has been brought to my attention is the effects of this year’s extreme heat and drought. There’s a good possibility that cattle pregnancy rates will significantly drop in areas hit hardest by the extreme temperatures. We’ll have to wait and see as more producers pregnancy check cows this Fall and as we move into next Spring’s calving season.

Study of reproduction in cattle is a long process, requires large numbers of cattle, and is heavily influenced by environmental conditions, so most studies require a few years to complete. Most folks would be surprised how much study of reproduction and embryo development in cattle contributes to reproductive technologies in humans.

I Am Agriculture Proud

National Agriculture Day – What does it mean to you?

My role in Agriculture has changed a bit since this time last year. In 2011 I was staring down the nose of some rank Brangus momma cows as I tagged their newborn calves. Day in and out I found myself in the middle of a pasture, working hands-on, raising beef for dinner tables across the globe. Today I play a different role in producing food. I’m still involved in beef cattle production. However, today I am on the research and education side of things.

So how does a college research assistant impact cattle production. Well, mostly I’m sitting at a desk, like this morning at 2 A.M. studying for an exam. But I also get to work with some of the best researchers in the country looking for ways to provide better resources and understanding for cattle producers around the country.

For example, take my work this past weekend. I took a trip to West Tennessee to pregnancy check cattle. Now, I joke around saying that I am “Up To My Armpits” in the back-end of a cow, but really I’m learning (hands-in, if you will) about the establishment and early development of pregnancy. Growing up, we allowed the bulls to do all of the breeding work in the herd and called the veterinarian in to determine that all of the cows were pregnant 6 months after breeding. Today, with the resources of beef cattle specialists and mentors, I’m learning to use some of the best modern resources in efficient breeding strategies. I am learning the use of Artificial Insemination and how to use an Ultrasound – much like the one in your Gynecologist’s office – to determine cow pregnancy as early as 30 days after breeding. It’s one thing to reach in and feel a developing embryo. It’s another to see it on a screen. I can sit all day in a classroom, with my nose stuck in a book, and still not learn what I can with actual hands-on experience. When I finish my degree program – whenever that distant day may arrive – I’ll be able to take these experiences, combined with an understanding of cellular concepts from the classroom, and apply them to help cattle producers in my own way.

Cattle producers are gaining from the work of my mentors (and myself, somewhat) as we visit all corners of Tennessee sharing our discoveries. Tennessee has a great program to educate producers on the fundamentals, latest technologies and discoveries, in raising cattle. Classes held in almost every county in the state, share with producers topics of Nutrition, Reproduction, Handling, Beef Quality Assurance, Marketing, and even Genetics. I greatly enjoy attending these meetings, having conversations with ranchers, and sharing my knowledge of the topics. There’s no better table for discussion than a Cattlemen’s meeting for this guy.

My position in agriculture may have temporarily changed, but I hope that new doors of opportunity will open for me in the future. Hopefully I can show others what I’m learning in a college setting and how to apply it to their own skills. Maybe I can open up new windows of interest for those wanting to learn more about the science of their food origins.

Either way I am proud to be a part of Agriculture. Even though I may not be now where I want to end up, I know I can still make a difference.

Why are YOU Agriculture Proud? Share your thoughts with everyone on this National Agriculture Day, and explain how you have a role in agriculture. From the pasture to plate, we all play a part.

Check out more of my month-long series featuring the diversity of Agriculture. I’m asking farmers, ranchers, and consumers from across the country why they are proud to be a part of Agriculture. Why are YOU Agriculture Proud?