Do you have a cow? If you have a cow, and you want her to produce milk, she’ll have to have a calf. She makes the milk, after all, for the benefit of her baby. And if you want her to keep producing milk for many years, she’ll need to have a new calf about once a year. That means you’ll need either a bull or someone who knows how to artificially inseminate your cow for you.
We use our local vet, but not all veterinarians are comfortable with AI, so your mileage may vary. You might be able to find someone to do it for you through your local extension office. The extension agents know everybody. And, worst case scenario, you might learn how to do it yourself! I’ve been assured that it isn’t overly difficult, but there is a knack to knowing how everything feels and when it’s all right. The vet or the AI specialist gets a lot of practice that you probably aren’t going to get on just your own cow or two.
As I said, we use our local veterinarian. He’s really good and he makes farm calls, so we don’t have to load the animal to get the deed done! Our problem is in scheduling. Sometimes, there are two vets working out of the office, and then it’s not so bad, but when there is only one, like now, I need to know when my cow is going to be in heat so I can schedule him to arrive on time!
Signs Your Cow Is In Heat
If you have more than one cow, the most obvious sign of imminent ovulation is mounting behavior. In the beginning, the cow in question will attempt to mount other cows in the herd (or even you, if you aren’t careful!) but she’ll move off if the other cows try to mount her. Later, within a few hours, she’ll stand while they mount her, maybe turning her head to admire her derriere. In fact, even without other cows present, she’ll seem overly interested in her rear end.
You can use other signs to determine when she’s fertile, too, even if she’s your only cow. She will very likely be unusually restless and perhaps moo-ey. If she’s milking, she may not let down so well for you that day. You might notice her vulva being a little softer and maybe a long string of mucus. She may not eat as much as you’d expect, being rather intent on accomplishing a certain other activity.
Pay attention. You’ll be able to tell!
Once you’re noticing what she looks and acts like when she’s in heat, it’s helpful to know how long her cycles are. The average bovine has a 21 day cycle, but I’ve noticed mine are more like 22. Each cow is different. If you are in a hurry to have her bred, you can go with the 21 day average, but if you can pinpoint your particular cow’s cycle length, I think you’ll have better results.
Now you can call your AI guy and schedule him to come to your cow. I plan, against my vet’s advice, to have him there a little bit before I expect my cow to show heat signs. His understanding is that the semen, once thawed, have only a 10-12 hour lifespan. I’m pretty sure we have more like 24 hours, or perhaps better. Anyway, I’d rather have him there a bit early than miscalculate and have him show up as scheduled, but too late. Too early, you still have a chance, but too late is just too late.
The Basis for My Timing Decisions
Allow me to explain my thought process here?
Up until this past fall, I just watched and waited and called my vet as soon as I saw any indication that my cow was in heat. Alas, a country vet who makes farm calls is in high demand and my small, last minute need often went unfulfilled. That has a negative effect on my herd family planning and the management of my milk production.
Then, one day late last summer, my husband’s Army friend was visiting. He grew up on a dairy farm, spent all his leave for twenty years going back to work on the farm, and just retired from the Army and bought the farm. Which is all to say that he really loves his dairy farm, and he has never gotten out of the business, in spite of twenty years of military service, frequently overseas. So this one day last summer, he was talking about how the dairy guys in his neck of the woods were breeding at 19 days and trying for 18. It was kind of an “aha” moment for me. I mean, of course!
I know enough about human fertility to know that sperm live for several days in situ, and I don’t see how it would be any different for cattle, who also happen to be mammals. We do admittedly lose a lot of the little guys by freezing, and then thawing, them, but the ones that do survive the process should have a lifespan of at least 24 hours.
I’ve scheduled all three of my cows to be artificially inseminated approximately 12 hours before they actually went into heat. Sunshine and Maybelle conceived on the first try. Annabelle was bred in early May by a different vet and didn’t take, but we tried again this week. He came in the morning and she was in standing heat by the evening milking eight hours later. Hopefully, this one takes! I’ll let you know in three weeks.