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Everything You Need To Know: Breeding Your Family Milk Cow

I had planned to make this blog post sometime, and as I was completing my 2022 vet paperwork recap, today seemed to be the right day! This post is dedicated to the new family milk cow owners, dreamers and lovers, and everyone living in Ontario (specifically) that is feeling overwhelmed and unsure about the financial commitment, breeding details, and know-how to actually get that milk!


This one is dedicated to you (so you can have a better first year than we did!).


Please read to the end for our ENTIRE year's worth budget for breeding our girl in the first year!


*****Please be advised that I am NOT a vet, and I am NOT affiliated in any way, shape, or form with EastGen, or any other person/company I mention in this blog post. I am simply offering my own personal experience and opinion as a fellow homesteader, and I do not claim any of this information to be entirely accurate or true!!! I REPEAT, THIS IS ONLY OUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AND SHOULD NOT REPLACE CARE GIVEN BY A PROFESSIONAL VETERINARIAN!!!!******


🐮 The Lingo 🐮

Before we get started, let's review some key words you may hear me use throughout this post:

Heifer

A female cow that hasn't had her first calf yet

Cow

A female cow that HAS had her first calf

CIDR

Controlled Internal Drug Release Device implanted with progesterone (similar to a massive cow IUD!)

EastGen

An Ontario cattle breeding company

Fertiline

A brand of GnRH hormone given to a cow around time of breeding to induce ovulation (https://www.drugs.com/vet/fertiline-can.html)

Estrumate

A brand of PG hormone given to a cow to cause regression of the CL and induce a heat cycle (https://www.merck-animal-health-usa.com/species/cattle/products/estrumate)

PG

Prostaglandin hormone which triggers a heat cycle by decreasing bloodstream progesterone (https://bi-animalhealth.com/)

GnRH

Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone which triggers maturing of the egg causing ovulation (https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/15.9.1965)

Ovulation

The release of the egg from a cow's ovary

Progesterone

The hormone that helps prepare the cow's body for pregnancy by developing new blood vessels in the uterus and more (https://www.healthline.com/health/progesterone-function#:~:text=Progesterone%20helps%20to%20prepare%20the,a%20drop%20in%20progesterone%20levels.)

CL

Corpus Luteum, a temporary organ that appears in a cow's ovary and releases progesterone to create an ideal environment for a baby calf to grow (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539704/)

Timed AI

Timed Artificial Insemination where a vet and AI technician work together to medically plan a heat cycle and pregnancy for your animal

AI Technician

Someone trained in artificially inseminating an animal

LH

Luteinizing hormone is regulated by GrNH and is the hormone that triggers ovulation and the development of the corpus luteum (https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/22255-luteinizing-hormone)

A2A2

Milk that only contains one protein type, that being A2 beta-casein. This is the same protein found in human milk, making it more digestible (https://www.homesteadcreameryinc.com/homestead-creamery-introduces-milk-line-a2-a2-proteins/#:~:text=A2%2DA2%20milk%20refers%20to,different%20types%20of%20protein%20differently).

Beta Casein

Open

A cow that is not pregnant

Bred

A cow that is pregnant


Congratulations! You just purchased your first family milk cow. Whether you purchased a 9 month old heifer like we did, or a 3 year old dairy cow that has already had her first baby,

it is an exciting time for the entire farm family! The dream of fresh milk, from cow straight to the table is just within grasp. But, in order to have milk, we need to have a baby first!


Breeding Overview

So, you've brought your beautiful girl home -- now what?


Most dairy heifers are bred between 16-18 months old. The goal is usually for a cow to have her first calf at roughly 2 years old, and pregnancy lasts 9 months. Therefore, you have to plan accordingly. Something else you need to think about is your facilities. Thanks to advances in modern livestock and veterinary medicine, you can breed your cow at any time of the year with a timed AI process.


Once you've decided that you want to breed your girl, the first step is to find a local semen supplier. In Ontario, the company we used is called EastGen. They carry a very large variety of bull semen, and will ship it to your local AI technician (which is determined based upon your location in Ontario). For the intents and purposes of this post, I'm going to be walking you through the EastGen process step by step:


(1) Select Your Sire


You can visit EastGen's website here: http://www.eastgen.ca/ to view the wide variety of sires they have available. It may be overwhelming at first to see just how many different categories there are, but DON'T PANIC!! If you have a hobby farm and are just looking to breed a backyard family milk cow, you don't need to scour the sires for every positive trait. The best place to start is selecting the breed you want, and sifting through each sire from there.


Each sire comes with a "fact sheet", including a bunch of different attributes. The ones we choose to focus on are CALVING ABILITY, STATURE, MILK KG, and BETA CASEIN. We want every sire we choose to have really good calving ability (to make for an easy birth), to be tested as carrying the A2A2 beta casein variant, have daughters that produce a lot of milk, and to not be absolutely massive as our girl is small. And, of course, he must be handsome!! Ultimately, choose the sire that speaks to you and that you think will be compatible with your heifer/cow. Top sires are always a good choice if you simply can't pick!


Once you have selected your sire, you need to call EastGen to place a semen order (phone number is: 1-800-265-9200). They are going to ask you for some personal info (and don't worry, this is totally normal for them to ask for your address first thing -- they need to know where you're located so they can best serve you!). If you can, prepare yourself ahead of time and have the following information readily available:


Your name

Your address

Your district (the representative you speak to can help you with that if you don't know -- but if you're near us in the Collingwood / Owen Sound / Flesherton Ontario area, your district is #71)

The sire of choice

How many straws you need (1 straw = 1 breeding)

Your phone number


The representative will also ask you whether or not you would like sexed semen (you can pick whether the calf will be male or female -- however, this option comes with a lower fertility rate and has less chance of producing a pregnancy).


After you speak to a representative, they will order your semen for you and let you know when it will be shipped to your local AI technician. Now it's time to contact your vet!


(2) Plan Your Breeding (Timed AI or The Natural Way!)


Now that you've ordered your semen, it's time to think about a breeding schedule. There are two options, a timed AI or trying to breed on a natural cycle (which means that you have to be able to notice the signs of your cow being in heat). We opted to choose a timed AI with a CIDR device. Let's review both methods:


NATURAL BREEDING CYCLE


If you choose to go by a natural breeding cycle, you have to be very attentive to your cow, and know the signs that she is in heat. With our girl, we noticed that her vulva would swell slightly and she would be really, REALLY loud... she would bellow all day long! And I seriously mean, All. Day. Long. Every cow is different though, so make sure you pay attention to the individual signs of YOUR cow. A heat cycle typically comes every 18-21 days (https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/product-safety-information/cattle-estrous-cycle-and-fda-approved-animal-drugs-control-and-synchronize-estrus-resource-producers#:~:text=After%20puberty%2C%20a%20heifer%20continues,of%20the%20bovine%20estrous%20cycle.). Once you notice your cow entering her heat cycle, it is time to call the AI technician for same day service. With EastGen, if you call before 10:00 AM any day of the week, they should have same-day service available to you. If you call after 10:00 AM, you will have to leave a voicemail for next-day service with the same details you used to order the semen:

Your name

Your address

Your district (the representative you speak to can help you with that if you don't know -- but if you're near us in the Collingwood / Owen Sound / Flesherton Ontario area, your district is #71)

The sire of choice

Your phone number

What day you need service


TIMED AI


If you choose to go the route of a timed AI, you have reliability on your side. By doing a timed AI, you know exactly when your cow's heat cycle will begin, and when the egg will be released (within a 12-24 hour range), increasing the chance of pregnancy. If this is the route you choose to go, you need to contact your vet and tell them you'd like to book an appointment for a CIDR implant for your dairy cow. This entire process lasts just over a week in total, and it is on a very strict schedule. My advice is to call your AI technician after you know the date that the CIDR will be implanted, and make an appointment for 9 days after the CIDR is installed to ensure your cow can be serviced that day (it has to be EXACTLY 9 days after the CIDR is installed or it won't work!!). You will need to give them the same information you gave when you ordered the semen:

Your name

Your address

Your district (the representative you speak to can help you with that if you don't know -- but if you're near us in the Collingwood / Owen Sound / Flesherton Ontario area, your district is #71)

The sire of choice

Your phone number

What day you need service

Science behind timed AI

On the day your vet comes to install the CIDR device, they will give the first GnRH dose. In the case with our personal vets, we were given a dose of Estrumate and a dose of Fertiline, as well as instructions detailing when to administer each shot, and when to remove the CIDR device.

PLEASE CONTACT YOUR VET TO ASK FOR THEIR SPECIFIC CIDR AND TIMED AI PROTOCOLS, AS WELL AS CORRECT MEDICATION DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION. THIS IS ONLY OUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AND SHOULD NOT REPLACE CARE GIVEN BY A PROFESSIONAL VETERINARIAN!!!!


(3) Check For Pregnancy


Woohoo! You've made it this far, and successfully bred your cow! Now you need to confirm pregnancy. A cow's gestation is 9 months, and you MUST wait for 35 days after breeding to schedule an ultrasound. Scheduling an ultrasound even a couple days early can make a pregnancy undetectable.


Once your vet performs an ultrasound on your cow, they will confirm or deny pregnancy. Then it is either time to start preparing for a baby, start the breeding process all over again, or wait till next year (if you're on a tight seasonal schedule).


Budget

This is the scary part... the amount of money you will be forking over for this whole process (and the most expensive glass of milk you will ever drink!!!!!!). Please bear in mind this is only our own personal experience in Ontario, and prices will vary drastically depending where in the province (or country) you are:

Date

Item

Price

July 30th, 2022

Call fee Exam Insert CIDR 2 x Fertiline shot 1 x Estrumate shot

$185.70 CDN

August 8th, 2022

Sire semen Breeding fee 1st animal

$101.14 CDN

September 2nd, 2022

Call fee Pregnancy ultrasound (open)

$122.79 CDN

September 12th, 2022

Call fee Exam Insert CIDR 2 x Fertiline shot 1 x Estrumate shot

$185.70 CDN

September 19th, 2022

Replacement Estrumate dose (whoops, I messed up!)

$12.80 CDN

September 21st, 2022

Sire semen Breeding fee 1st animal 2nd try

$72.89 CDN

December 22nd, 2022

Call fee Pregnancy ultrasound (bred)

$126.47 CDN

TOTAL

$807.49 CDN



Conclusions

I sincerely hope that this post has been helpful for those looking into breeding their own family milk cow in Ontario. We want to provide accurate, useful, and informative information so that we can provide the resources that we never had!


Best of luck in the future, and happy milking!!!



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