An idea from the dairy industry has made A.I. a little easier on the Green Mountain Red Angus ranch owned by Bob and Julie Morton and Jim and Shirley Morton at Three Fork s, MT.
Head stanchions or locking headgates, typically used to catch dairy cows in the milking parlor, have been installed along the Morton's concrete bunkline feeder. The locking headgates were put there to simplify the Morton's artificial insemination (A.I.) program. How does it work?
After weaning, heifers are fed out of the bunkline through fall and winter, without the stanchions being locked. This is done to acclimate the heifers to the headgates, Morton says.
Then, come spring, the stanchions are used to catch the heifers' heads at the bunkline, administer heat synchronization shots and three days later catch the heifers again to A.I. them.
It's a system that Morton says works well. The biggest benefit: 'they simplify management,' he says.
The Morton's installed the stanchions in the fall of 1993, and use them to breed about 40 heifers per year.
'The benefits far outweigh the negatives,' says Morton. 'You can use them to do almost anything to cattle -- A.I., vaccinate or tag.
The only disadvantage over a squeeze chute is that the cattle can move their rear ends around, he says. This makes delicate procedures, like treating pinkeye, nearly impossible, he adds.
Less Stress While the Morton's first installed the stanchions to create less work for themselves, the stanchions can also put less stress on animals if they are properly introduced to the lock-ups, according to animal handling specialist Temple Grandin.
'The way cattle react to headgates has a lot to do with how cattle are introduced to the headgates. If they are introduced properly, they'll be low stress. If they are introduced in the wrong way, it can be high stress,' Grandin says.
She says animals should be introduced to the headgates with food, not shots, so they have a positive experience.
'The first experience makes a big impression with animals,' she says.
Like the Mortons do, she suggests first feeding animals through the headgates and then gradually training them to be locked in the headgates for short periods.
'Cattle need to go through an extensive training period otherwise it's not going to work,' Grandin says. 'Beef cattle are totally trainable, but it must be gradual.'
In his experience, Morton says 'It takes a couple days for cattle to figure the stanchions out,' However, there are usually one or two that never do use them, he says. Morton also says the stanchions are not suited for wild cattle. 'If the cattle get too wild in the stanchions, they can knock them open.'
For Cows, Too The Mortons got the idea to use the stanchions for A.I. from another registered cattle breeder in Montana who also raised dairy cattle. He said they were a great tool for breeding all ages of cattle, says Morton.
The Mortons only use the stanchions for heifer calves, but larger sizes are available for larger animals. The heifer-size stanchions have six spaces in a 10- ft. span and cost about $31.50/space, according to Morton. Therefore, there is room for 60 heifers along a 100-ft. bunkline.
Their neighbor also uses the locking headgates for embryo transplant (E.T.) work. Donor cows are caught to administer necessary shots and for A.I. The Morton's are now considering installing some larger stanchions to facilitate their own growing E.T. program.