Farmers say tool increases number of heifers

By CAROL RYAN DUMAS

Capital Press

The financial crunch in the dairy industry has dairymen debating the use of sexed semen.

Sebastopol, Calif., dairyman Domenic Carinalli hasn't used the technology, which results in about 90 percent female births. He recognizes it as another tool for producers, but not one he's sold on.

"It's not something I think in the long run is beneficial to the industry," he said. "It's put a lot of heifers on the ground that in the long run we're going to have to deal with, it turns into more milk."

Matthew Evangelo of Hanford, Calif., has used the technology in his heifer replacement plan. Advantages include a low number of bull calves and birthing ease. But he said he's been dissatisfied with conception rates and will discontinue using sexed semen.

As for extra replacement heifers in the stream, he sees sexed semen as only one cause. Improvements in breeding in general are also a factor, he said.

Jamie Bledsoe, president of Western United Dairymen, milks 1,200 cows on his Riverside, Calif., dairy and uses sexed semen on all of his heifers, except in a couple of very hot months.

"It's worked very well because of good conception rates," he said.

It's also been beneficial as he sells registered heifers and fresh cows.

"I know what I have instead of buying someone's leftovers. Quality control, I guess you can call it," he said.

He said he's not sure how many extra animals are out there, but he is sure sexed semen is already having an effect on numbers. Milk per cow is going up as a result of better genetics.

"I think that's part of the discussion right now -- what effect it will have on the industry," he said. "The prediction today is that supply is going to outstrip demand (this year). Extra heifer calves aren't going to help."

Whether the economic downturn has affected use of sexed semen is hard to tell, he said.

"We hear a mixed bag. We hear sexed semen sales are gone, then hear they're higher than ever. I know they've all lowered their price," he said.

Select Sires declined to comment on its sales, and Accelerated Genetics did not return calls. Both offer sexed semen.

Turlock, Calif., dairyman Ray Souza, who is immediate past president of Western United Dairymen, uses sexed semen as a calving tool on a limited basis in his virgin heifers. He cut back when milk prices plummeted.

"We always have to be accepting of new technology; it's a competitive market. But sexed semen is probably not a tool we needed at this time," he said. "In the long term, it'll probably be good; in the short term, we have to deal with it."

He said he thinks the use of the technology among dairymen has dropped along with the value of animals. The price of cows has dropped $1,000, and the price of heifer calves has gone from $400 or $500 to $70 or $80, close to cost of pregnancy with sexed semen.

"It's going to take awhile for our industry to adjust and learn how to use it," he said.

Tony Veiga, who milks 3,000 cows at Sunnyside, Wash., and serves as chairman of the Washington State Dairy Federation and Western States Dairy Producer Trade Association, has used sexed semen in the past.

"It's a good tool, and I disagree it's the reason we have a lot of milk," he said. "It's not the problem. The problem is we continue to produce milk we don't have a market for. We continue to put it in the milk tank, let the co-ops handle it and expect to get paid for it."

Supply and demand still dictate price, and dairymen haven't restrained themselves with their co-ops, he said.

With or without sexed semen, animals are available for producers to expand their herds, he added.

"It's a valuable tool; it has its good points. You can still use it and not abuse it," he said.

In earlier estimates, the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Florida, said sexed semen would result in 161,000 heifers nationally this year, up from the 63,000 estimate in 2009 and 8,000 in 2006, when the technology became widely available.

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