Since October 2015, NCBA CLUSA’s USDA Food for Progress-funded Safe Agriculture/Food Export (SAFE) project known locally as ProGana, has been working with farmers and regulators in the Dominican Republic to strengthen the country’s cattle industry. The project works to improve agricultural productivity in the beef and dairy value chain and expand the trade of beef and dairy products through technical and financial assistance, capacity strengthening, and the promotion of improved technologies and practices.
One of the ways the ProGana project is supporting local cattle ranchers is by introducing reproductive management practices through artificial insemination (AI) routes. Reproductive management is a practice that aims to impregnate the cow as early as possible, obtain quality milk, and increase the profitability of the farm. ProGana’s AI routes support the national government’s breeding program, which uses AI and embryo transplants to ensure selection of quality bulls and breed cattle for tropical climates without sacrificing beef and dairy production or quality.
The ProGana project is working in the Dominican Republic to implement an AI route as an insemination service for producers who are unable to implement this practice on their own. Not having trained employees, lack of insemination tanks, or limited technical knowledge often limits producers from applying this practice.
The insemination routes allow farmers to see the physiological status of their cows in order to get treatment according to their deficiencies, which could be due to lack of food, minerals, or disease. These cows, as they improve, can then be included in the AI route.
How do artificial insemination routes work?
Farm personnel are trained to accurately identify cattle in heat. Then, farmers participating in an AI route are asked to observe their cows, and when they notice they are in heat, notify the inseminator technician to receive the service. These producers are taught a technique called FTAI: Fixed Time Artificial Insemination, in which, with the help of reproductive hormones and a designed application protocol, the cows are synchronized so they collectively come into heat, in a single day. The SAFE project promotes and sponsors this practice on the farms that are in the geographical areas covered by the project. FTAI helps to achieve national cattle genetic improvements, which have already been seen in the country’s cattle sector.
How was this AI route established?
In 2016, ProGana promoted AI in the country with the help of a Costa Rican Cattle Reproduction specialist, Dr. Jorge Mario Bolaños, and the support of the project’s international partner, Genex Cooperative, a Wisconsin-based cattle AI input service provider.
Next, ProGana enlisted the help of a specialist in reproduction and genetics, Alvaro Paolini, who was already carrying out a reproduction consultancy for a group of ranchers in Hato Mayor. ProGana, in coordination with Paolini, then designed a new AI route to benefit other producers in the Hato Mayor breeders’ association with Paolini’s services. In order to ensure farmer participation and sustainability of these routes, participating farmers are charged a small fee for the service that is lower than the market rate to cover the necessary supplies for work such as gloves, semen, nitrogen, paper, etc.
How did ProGana support the implementation of the route?
After an evaluation of the ranchers to include in the route was done, our specialist established the requirements farms must maintain, and the cattle that would participate in the insemination route. The cattle had to be tagged, sanitized, vaccinated, then received the minerals indicated by the specialist. Before starting the service, the cattle were also evaluated at the reproductive level.
ProGana, with its local and international implementing partners supplied equipment, including AI tanks, insemination pistols, thermoses for defrosting, among others. This methodology of payment for services also allowed the route to be sustainable.
What milestones were achieved with the implementation of this route in Hato Mayor?
The general problem ranchers face in the eastern region of the Dominican Republic is lack of pregnant cows on the farm. Only about 40% of the cows are pregnant on average when they should be at least 80%.
From 2019-2021, The route carried out more than 5,600 insemination services and achieved an average pregnancy of more than 50%. The average reach starts from a range of 33% to 75% depending on the condition of the farm and the animals. The services were then performed with a single inseminator through the FTAI technique.
Today, the route has been extended to several provinces due to the successes seen in Hato Mayor. These successes include genetic improvements and ensuring more predictability for when calves are born. This allows ranchers to plan ahead so calves are born in the months when there is no drought, or they can take advantage of surplus forage and calves can develop in favorable conditions.
Other provinces utilizing the artificial insemination route now include El Seibo and La Altagracia. As a positive externality, and as a result of previous collaborations between Dr. Paolini and Pasteurizer RICA, an industrial Dominican dairy processor, RICA has implemented these services in the province of La Vega.
The success of rancher Ricardo Barceló
A successful example of this process was seen with a prominent rancher from Hato Mayor, Dr. Ricardo Barceló. Dr. Barceló’s farm carried out the largest insemination in a single day, on the same farm, and under the FTAI modality.
This outstanding work began on June 3, 2021, with 174 animals. The first group of heifers were inseminated at 15 months old. On August 6 of the same year, Dr. Barceló set out on an ambitious mission. This time with 220 animals including cows and heifers, they all were inseminated on the same farm, on the same day, and with a single inseminator. Dr. Barceló’s story is just one of many successful cases of AI carried out in the country.
After successfully implementing AI routes on multiple farms, the project can point out the following lessons learned and ways forward:
- Insemination routes can be profitable and sustainable when they have the support of the farmers.
- It is necessary to involve producers willing to pay a moderate amount for insemination services, and to ensure a minimum number of services per day. This allows the route to remain financially viable.
- The inspection of animals and farms that want to enter the route must be rigorous and certify they meet the minimum conditions to achieve a positive result, and an efficient investment of resources.
The ProGana project continues to strengthen the business and administrative capacities of producer groups in the Dominican Republic through technical assistance including good corporate governance, management, and business services. The project also assists ranchers with financial services including financial education, loan assistance, and grants.