An opportunity to use beef bulls who produce up to 15 per cent more pregnancies than other sire prospects is proving an attractive profit driver for commercial breeders.
Gone are the stereotypes that semen sales are an exclusive product for seedstock producers and now fixed time artificial insemination programs are helping commercial operations to get far more than the best genetics on offer.
It's now almost three and a half years since ABS Australia representatives Bill Cornell and Fletch Kelly flagged an idea at the ABS Beef World Conference in Denver to collect and analyse all of the conception rate results of their AI sires.
In March 2018 the concept was officially announced to the public at the ABS Australia Biannual Conference in Albury and since then about 30,000 conception rate results have been recorded across ABS and other semen companies including privately sold sires.
The company now offers what they believe to be the country's only sire semen fertility record system and began marketing platinum sires (up to 10 per cent high conception rate based on thousands of records) and gold sires (up to 7pc higher conception rate on at least 1000 records) who perform ahead of the pack in fixed time AI programs.
The "superstar performer" and sire producing up to 15 per cent higher conception rates is Murdeduke Kicking K428, a rising six-year-old son of Te Mania Emperor and out of Murdeduke E175.
Murdeduke Angus' Simon Falkiner said the value of Murdeduke Kicking was brought home to him by one of their clients recently.
"He commented that in a joining of 180 heifers split 50/50 he ended up with 12 more heifers in calf after running a fixed time AI program compared to another highly recognised but not HCR sire," he said. "He commented that 13 per cent more heifers were now set up for life calving early, weaning heavier calves boosting his bottom line."
Other platinum sires include Baldridge Command C036 and Clunie Range Legend L348 while Landfall Keystone is a gold sire.
Semen from the HCR leaders looks no different under the microscope and it is yet to be known if their higher conception results are a genetic factor or a longer semen survival rate.
ABS southern beef key account manager and HCR manager Fletch Kelly said the company had seen massive demand for HCR sires and they were among the most popular commercial bulls.
He said producers often focused on estimated breeding value traits but often didn't put any significance on the impact and economics of a simple pregnancy which delivered four times greater economic impact than any other production trait.
"A lot of commercial producers are getting hung up on whether a bull is two for IMF (intramuscular fat) or three for IMF but forgetting that in a commercial setting the number one economic driver by a country mile is getting a single pregnancy, and increasing the number of pregnancies you can get," he said.
"It's about maximising calves on the ground, that's the first requirement before you think about anything else.
"Get as many calves as you can on the ground and then worry about the bull that you are using later because you can use the best bull in the world, he can be phenotypically perfect and have the most incredible set of figures but if you don't get any pregnancies by that bull - there's no point using him at all."
HCR sire semen isn't set to run out anytime soon with Murdeduke Kicking K428 recently averaging about 900 units of semen collection a day when normal expectations are 200 units.
He was budgeted to be in collection for two months but completed his targets in just three weeks.
Fixed time AI programs are a valuable management tool for producers and can shift the mean calving date by about 16 days.
Studies have also shown a first-time calving heifer giving birth in the first three weeks of the calving period will be 13 per cent more likely to be in the herd as a mature cow. ABS clients have also reported calves born in the first round of an AI program are 25kg heavier on average at weaning.
ABS beef product manager Bill Cornell calculated the economical benefits of using a HCR sire like Murdeduke Kicking producing 15 per cent better conception rates.
In a fixed time AI program that could have flow on effects of reducing the program cost by 24 per cent per pregnancy. Given that the extra early calves are $100 more in value, the overall AI costs per pregnancy could reduce by 42 per cent.
Those extra calves also increased the number of HCR sired heifers by 28 per cent, which could be retained in the herd.
Mr Cornell said the commercial producer was getting value from more calves and tighter joinings plus added genetic value from traits like calving ease, weight gain and docility. The program is attracting interest from overseas with the pair expecting similar programs could be adopted in Latin and North America in the future.
"ABS Brazil is utilising this sort of a program and in the ABS NuEra and InFocus programs fertility is in there as one of the number one profit drivers and retrofits showing farmers how to use that particularly in the dairy industry but as we're doing now in the beef industry," Mr Cornell said.
Lifting conception in Tassie herd
Tasmanian commercial Angus breeders Mark and Felicity Richards were able to lift their herd's conception rates by up to 20 per cent thanks largely to the use of a HCR sire.
The Richards run Furneux Agriculture across 1600 hectares on Flinders Island and 1300 hectares at Launceston and turn cattle off into Tasmanian feedlots.
They began utilising artificial insemination about three years ago as a way to establish their own in-herd bull breeding program, shorten the heifer calving window from their traditional six weeks and speed up genetic gain.
Of the 2200 breeders to calve down this year they include about 670 AI heifers joined in spring and another 100 to 250 joined in autumn.
Platinum HCR sire Murdeduke Kicking was used extensively in the spring program which Mr Richards credited with boosting their results.
"The high conception rate was something we accidentally stumbled across because we had only been achieving about 50 per cent with heifer conception and we had always been working on this," he said.
"Then we stumbled across Murdeduke Kicking and the best (conception result) was up around 71 per cent."
The accuracy and predictability of HCR sires made fixed time AI programs a very competitive option against natural conception, he said.
"If all of a sudden we can go from 50 to 70 per cent conception it does lower that cost per head," he said.
"It's very competitive with using natural conception, especially with the way bull prices are at the moment, it gives us accuracy at a pretty good rate and it's becoming better value.
"To be able to hone in on that particular bull that fits well into your system and then spread that over a large number is really good, as opposed to rocking up at a bull sale and having to compete with everyone to get what you want in the current environment."
With Launceston enjoying one of the best autumns many producers have ever seen, Mr Richards was confident of a successful calving.
"In Launceston we had the best autumn that I could remember in my little history of farming," he said.
"We had a poor spring but we made up for it with autumn and talking to older people it is probably one of best they have seen."