Is it cruel to use bulls to get dairy cows in calf?

Bull  waits for cows

Hello ladies!

A dairy farmer speaking with ABC Rural reporter Michael McKenzie the other day didn’t really get to explain himself after suggesting that using bulls rather than artificial insemination was linked with inductions.

For decades, it’s been pretty standard practice on Australian dairy farms to use straws of frozen sperm rather than natural matings. Artificial insemination (AI) doesn’t hurt and using frozen semen allows farmers to select traits from the best bulls around the world.

Each bull is given a numerical rating for the characteristics they pass on to their daughters. The scope is amazing – everything from teat length through to temperament is measured – and we can use that information to select sires that will correct problems in the herd. If, for example, we have quite a few cows with short teats, we can choose a mate whose daughters tend to have unusually long teats.

In this way, our cows get naturally healthier and stronger, generation after generation. Better legs and feet means less lameness, while better udders means less mastitis (oh, and susceptibility to mastitis itself is on the list, too!).

There is a drawback though. People are rarely as good as bulls are at detecting when a cow is fertile. Bulls curl back their lips to seemingly drink in the pheromones undetectable to humans while frozen semen may also be less potent than that of a bull.

For this reason, most farmers who aim to have the herd calve over just a few weeks use AI followed by a short period of natural matings with “mop up” bulls.

The farmer was trying to say that he used just the AI, effectively mating his cows over less time. That’s his choice but I can’t see how it has any impact on whether a farmer uses drugs to induce an early calving. If you want a lot of calves in a short time, feed the cows well, choose sires well ranked for fertility and pull the bulls out early.

As you can see from other Milk Maid Marian blog posts, I believe inductions for any reason other than the welfare of the mother cow should be banned. I am not alone – most dairy farmers detest it. The practice is already almost wiped out, with only 1.58 per cent of Australia’s dairy cows induced in 2010. Still too many but a long, long way off the epidemic suggested in media reports.

3 Comments

Filed under Animal Health and Welfare, Calves, Cows

3 responses to “Is it cruel to use bulls to get dairy cows in calf?

  1. Completely agree with you!

    How to avoid inductions?? MANAGEMENT! And responsibility of the farmers..

    We do not condone or use induction methods here unless for the health of the cow – ie: twins and over due, dead calves etc..
    I honestly do NOT see it as a management tool at the end of calving.. your risking the health of your cows, your messing with their hormones.. and ultimately, if you desire such a tight calving pattern – be proactive about it at the start! Healthy, happy cows get in calf quickly!

    There are other factors which come into using a bull as well – too big, and the damage done to a cow can often be life threatening by the sheer mass of the bull and force of male strength. Constantly hunting, humping and jumping on cows is exhausting!

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  2. milkmaidmarian

    Thanks for the comment, Jess. We’re really careful to select bulls that aren’t too massive and sell them on if they grow dangerously large. We aim for medium-frame cows and don’t want to have big calves, either.

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  3. We have managed to acquire a couple of big girls in the herd.. “ellie the elephant” and another couple of registered ones.. i didnt think our cows were that big – until we started classifying with the Holstein Association! Turns out, we have med – large framed cows.. so now to work on bringing the big girls down, and the little girls upto a happy medium.
    (Did i mention i LOVE the breeding side of things??)

    Our biggest bull of the 2011 calving seasons.. a 70 ish kg Olympic bull – whose a “calving ease” bull.. dramatic season, and a fluke shot at a huge bull.. luckily mum was okay, but it took 2 1/2 of us to lift him into the calf trailer!

    What semen companies do you use? and what bulls are you selecting for your 2012 season?

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