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Maximizing profit with sexed semen

Jim Salfer, Extension Educator
February 25, 2012

Gender selected (sexed) semen has been commercially available since the fall of 2005. The adaption rate by dairy producers was very rapid. Estimations are that in 2008 dairy producers used about 1.75 million units of sexed semen on heifers and cows. This resulted in an estimated 258,000 extra heifers entering the milking herd in 2011 from sexed semen.

The initial reaction from many dairy producers when sexed semen became available was to use it without much thought. At the time, heifer prices were high and the general thought was that it is impossible to have too many heifers available for replacements. However, for many farms the indiscriminate use of sexed semen may actually be decreasing total farm profitability. According to farm business management records, the cost to raise replacement heifers averaged over $1500 dollars from 2008 to 2010. This number will be higher if feed costs remain at current levels. This makes it difficult to raise replacements and sell them at a profit. Several farms I work with that have used sexed semen have cull rates of 50% because of the number of replacements available. Even though cull cow prices have been high and are likely to remain high because of the small beef cow herd, there is still a cost to high turnover rates.

Sexed semen is a great technology but dairy producers should develop a plan that is likely to increase total farm profitability. Here are some of the factors to consider as you think about sexed semen use?

Without the use of embryo transfer, historically most of the genetic improvement has come from sires because of the limited ability to select which females will produce our future herd replacements. With the use of sexed semen, it is now possible to better target the females that will produce herd replacements. By using genomic testing ($43 for a 6K test) or parent average (available from DHIA) we can identify the superior females to produce replacements. Even though highest ranking sires do not have sexed semen available because of demand, in the past couple of years, higher ranking sires have sexed semen available.

Dr. Albert De Vries from University of Florida has developed a model to compare profitability of sexed semen use under different scenarios. His model considers differences in calf values, changes in genetic value, conception rate, differences between sexed and conventional semen, differences in semen cost, lactation curves, and dystocia. Table 1 shows one example of the optimal mix under different heifer and crossbred calf values. As you might imagine, all factors change the optimal breeding mix somewhat, but it can provide general concepts about calf values that can change the optimal breeding mix for maximum profitability. Of course the challenge is that the future value of a calf is not known when the breeding decision is made, but this can still provide some food for thought as you think about the best mix for you.

Sexed semen has the potential to improve dairy farm profitability. The optimal mix may include the use of sexed dairy semen to females from genetically superior females and beef semen to maximize calf value. The biggest factors to consider for the ideal mix are the difference in value between dairy heifers, dairy bulls, and crossbred calves. Sexed semen may also allow more rapid internal growth than in the past. Overall, the goal for the use of this technology should be to maximize profit and genetic gain.

Table 1. Optimal breeding policy with various heifer and crossbred calf values1





Dairy heifer sale price




Crossbred calf sale price




Profit ($/cow/yr)








Dairy heifer calves born (/cow/yr)




Crossbred calves born (/cow/yr)





% Sexed semen:





            Lact. 1




            Lact. 2+








% Beef semen:





            Lact. 1




            Lact. 2+




1Albert De Vries, 2010.


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