Beef production has had a share in the technology boom of the past 10 to 15 years.

When the bovine genome was mapped, many thought that identifying a tenderness gene would happen the next day.

Finding a tenderness gene has proven to be more difficult than just mapping locations. Today’s beef producer has many options regarding which technology to implement.

The primary factor when deciding has to be financial. Will the implementation of this technology on my farm or ranch result in a better bottom line at the end of the day?

I believe the use of ultrasound, artificial insemination/sexed semen and, possibly, pregnancy tests can provide a high rate of return to beef producers.



Ultrasound is not a new technology when compared to other advances in electronic development.

What is new is the ability, portability and durability of the machines. The first time I saw an animal ultrasound system, it was so large that the veterinarian hauled it around on a trailer and he paid over $70,000 for it.

The machines that many are using today are the size of a laptop and many retail for less than $15,000.

One machine is able to do carcass as well as reproductive ultrasound, which expands the uses of the machine.

A producer can recover the costs of the machine by removing open cows and not feeding them through the winter. The feed prices we are paying today make the payoff even faster.

Carcass ultrasound can be used to evaluate genetic decisions in replacement females to track the carcass effects of the previous year’s bull selection.

If the bull decisions resulted in lowered carcass value, then the rancher would know before that heifer produced calves that were lower in quality. Those lower-quality calves would affect the bottom line.

Ultrasound is a tool that could be implemented at a relatively low cost with the potential to provide a high rate of return.

Artificial insemination

Artificial insemination is still not widely utilized by commercial cowmen even though the genetic benefits can be substantial.

Most cattle producers cite the extra labor and drug costs as the main reason to not use AI. This is a legitimate concern to most operations.

Previous protocols have required heat checking, which is labor-intensive and requires that the animals be in a confined area that normally means extra feed.

There are several newer protocols out today that utilize fixed-time AI (TAI). Fixed-time AI is when the cows are synchronized then all are inseminated at the same time and there is not a need for heat checking.

After AI, clean-up bulls are utilized for those that did not conceive, which still results in a very tight calving window.

Many of these protocols are yielding over 70 percent pregnancy rates, which are very acceptable especially when higher genetic merit bulls are utilized.

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Sexed semen

Sexed semen is a technology that separates the X-bearing sperm from the Y-bearing sperm.

The male animal can contribute both while the female can only contribute X chromosomes.

The male determines the sex of the offspring by contributing either an X chromosome (female) or a Y chromosome (male).

A flow cytometer is used to separate the X-bearing from the Y-bearing sperm.

When the semen is sorted, a producer can decide if they want male or female offspring. If a producer were to isolate their very best females in the herd, then used sexed semen to inseminate so that all replacement females would be kept from this group, then genetic progress could become significantly faster.

The same producer could then breed the older cows to male-producing semen for steer production.

Steers routinely bring a higher price than females when sold as feeder cattle. Using both technologies (sexed semen and AI) at the same time could have a significant effect on the value of the calves produced.

Preg testing

Another technology that is beginning to gain traction is pregnancy tests for cattle. The tests work very similar to the home test that people use.

The tests are looking for specific proteins that are present only when there is a fetus in the uterus.

These tests are still being perfected but could be very useful for cattle producers at some point in the future.

Most of these tests recommend waiting 28 days after the first breeding for the best results. Ultrasound can be done accurately at day 32 after breeding.

The pregnancy test only saves four days; but that is four days sooner that a decision can be made which will likely affect profitability.

These technologies are readily available for use in the beef industry. The best scenario would probably include some of these technologies being used simultaneously.

All of these technologies are not practical in every production environment and every operation. I encourage producers to always put pen to paper and make sure any changes in management will actually either make more money or reduce costs.

Producers should keep an open mind and maybe take another look at some of the technologies that are available and make an informed decision on the potential for implementation.  end mark


TOP: Cheaper ultrasound technology makes genetic decisions simpler and tracks the carcass effects from certain selections.

BOTTOM: Sexed semen hastens the genetic progress of a herd by isolating male and female chromosomes. Photos courtesy of Progressive Cattleman staff.

kraig peel


Kraig Peel
Assistant Professor
Colorado State University