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The Artificial Insemination of Cattle

 

Artificial insemination (or A.I. for short) is a common procedure on dairy and beef farms.  In fact, the majority of dairy cattle are conceived in this way. This is not a new concept, it has been a practice being used since the 1950s.

 

          There are many advantages of A.I. over natural breeding:

      • Farmers have access to genetics from bulls of a quality which they may not be able to individually afford.
      • Frozen semen can be transported around the globe.
      • Control of many venereal disease. Ie. brucellosis and trichomoniasis
      • Cost effectiveness.
      • Producers can choose the sire for their calves.
      • Safety, bulls can be aggressive and dangerous.
      • Freezing semen is also good insurance if your bull becomes injured or infertile.
      • More ?bang for your buck? - In a normal breeding season a bull can only service approximately 30 to 40 cows, but a single bull can service thousands of cattle with AI.
      •  Large numbers of cows can be synchronized and bred, enabling a shorter calving season
      • A bull can sire offspring for a period long exceeding his natural life.

If a producer is interested in collecting semen from a certain bull, and having it put in straws and frozen, the first step taken is to test the bull?s semen and make certain it is good quality. The producer then contacts the place where the bull will be collected and give the bull?s information. Straws are special ordered with the bull?s information printed on the straws.  Permits are filled in, and then a collection date can be set.

 

The producer will be asked how many straws they wish to have put up for the bull.  Depending on the sperm concentration, a mature animal may be able to have up to 300 or more straws done at a time.  A young bull, however, may only produce 100 straws on average at a given time.

 

Once the semen is collected from the bull, it needs to be mixed in an ?extender?.  The extender nourishes and protects the spermatozoa during storage, it also protects the semen against cold shock (the initial cooling below body temperature).  The semen needs to sit at a specific temperature for a length of time before being packed in the plastic straws.

 

The straws can be stored in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -196C.  This temperature allows for very little deterioration of the bovine semen.  It is also a product that is not flammable. 

 

In order to use the straws they are thawed in warm water for a few seconds before insemination to reactivate the semen.

 

It is important to note that some locations are accredited to freeze bull semen only for use at the farm that owns the bull; whereas, other locations are accredited to make A.I. straws that are available for sale to other producers or exported.

 

Many progressive cattle producers have begun to consider having their good quality bulls collected as a form of insurance.  If a valuable bull injures himself, at least his genetics are safely stored in the liquid nitrogen tank.