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2020 Beef Cow Synchronization Protocols

By Robin Salverson
The Beef Reproduction Task Force, composed of representatives of A.I. and pharmaceutical companies, veterinarians and university reproduction specialists, has developed recommended synchronization protocols for beef producers that will provide optimal pregnancy rates based on research and field use. The protocols can be found in genetic company catalogs and on the Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle website.
Take note that not all protocols are for both cows and heifers. There is a difference in physiological response between heifers and cows, therefore it is important to select the proper protocol. Likewise, follow the protocol as directed, giving the proper hormone injection or insert and breeding at the optimal insemination time. To help increase the success of the synchronization protocol cows need to be at a body condition score of 5 or better during breeding season and be at least 50 days post calving. If there are young, thin and or late calving cows in the herd, it is likely they are not cycling. The addition of a progestin such as CIDR® in the protocol can help jump-start some of these non-cycling cows. However, caution needs to be taken, CIDR® or other progestins are not the “cure all” for thin, young and late calving cows. An evaluation of the nutrition program is recommended if a high percentage of cows are not cycling.
Handling and Administering Synchronization Hormones
When handling all hormones including CIDR® wear latex or non-latex gloves regardless if you are a man or a woman. Example, prostaglandin is a smooth muscle contractor, our intestines are the largest smooth muscle in the human body. If prostaglandin is absorbed through the skin it can “tie up” the digestive system. Additionally, the hormone functions in the human body like it does in a heifer or cow therefore, extreme care should be taken when handling all synchronization hormones.
It is tempting to give a cow an injection in the rump, because there is the belief that cull cows solely end as hamburger beef. However, a majority of the “middle meats” such as ribeye rolls, short-loins, striploins, along with round are marketed as such. Therefore, Beef Quality Assurance guidelines should be followed when giving all injectable hormones. Secondly, giving the injection in the rump does not increase the efficacy or speed of the hormone because it was administered “closer to the ovary”. All drugs must enter the blood system and travel to the heart and lungs before reaching the target organ (i.e. ovaries).
Cow Estrous Synchronization Protocols
The recommended cow estrous synchronization protocols have been put into one of three categories: 1) Heat Detection Protocol; 2) Heat Detection and Timed AI Protocol and 3) Fixed Time AI Protocol.
Cows in these protocols should be inseminated 12 hours after the first observation of standing heat. Peak heat activity occurs approximately 48 to 72 hours after prostaglandin. In order to optimize AI pregnancy rates, heat detection should occur at minimum 3 times per day for at least 1 hour per check. This equates to a total of 3 hours per day heat checking with 5 to 6 hours of heat check increasing overall AI pregnancy rates. It is also important to train individuals to detect signs of heat (Table 1) and application of a heat detection aid will help assist in determining cows in heat when no one is watching. The heat detection protocols for cows include:
  • Select Synch
  • Select Synch + CIDR®
  • PG 6-day CIDR®

Table 1. Observe cow for sign of heat during detection protocols.

Before Standing Heat
(6-10 Hours before)
During Standing Heat
(can last 6 – 24 hours)
After Standing Heat
(up to 10 hours)
Will not stand to be riddenStands to be riddenWill not stand to be ridden
Vocal and smells other cowsNervous and restlessClear Mucous discharge
Nervous and restlessCongregates and rides other cows-
Attempts to ride other cowsVulva moist, red and slightly swollen-
Vulva moist, red and slightly swollenClear mucous discharge-
These protocols include a combination of both heat detection and timed insemination. Cows observed in heat should be inseminated 12 hours after standing heat. After approximately 3 days of heat detection, all cows not showing heat after PG injection will be given an injection of GnRH and inseminated (i.e. timed insemination). The amount of time spent on heat detection is reduced and early responders have a better chance of conceiving compared to a single fixed-time AI. The Heat Detect and Timed AI protocols include:
  • Select Synch & TAI
  • Select Synch + CIDR® & TAI
  • PG 6 –day CIDR® & TAI
In a fixed-time AI protocol, all cows are inseminated at a pre-determined time with no heat detection required. These protocols are typically more intensive and expensive, but no time is dedicated to heat detection. However, expect a lower conception rate compared to the previous protocols and when considering these fixed-time AI protocols, only synchronize the number of cows that can be inseminated in a 3-to-4-hour period (protocol dependent). Fixed-Time AI protocols include:
  • 7-day CO-Synch + CIDR®
  • 5-day CO-Synch + CIDR®
  • PG 5 –day CO-Synch + CIDR® (For Bos Indicus cows only)
Estrous Synchronization Planner
Using the Estrus Synchronization Planner can help you develop and compare synchronization protocols as well as develop a synchronization and breeding calendar for both cows and heifers. The planner can found at the Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle website or the Iowa Beef Center website as a free download.
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