With breeding season in progress there is always time to re-evaluate processes used and consider all options that can make the process easier, efficient and successful with maximum positive outcomes. One way to breed is through artificial insemination, a delicate procedure that needs to be done with a well-informed mind in order for it to be a success.
Artificial Insemination (AI) is the most valuable management practice to the cattle producer. The procedure makes efficient use of the generous supply of sperm available from an individual male in a manner that greatly increases genetic progress as well as improving reproductive efficiency in many situations. It is the deposition of sperm cells within the female reproductive tract by mechanical or instrumental means for the purpose of breeding. AI was the first biotechnology applied to improve reproduction and genetics of farm animals. Reproductive efficiency using AI is at least as good as using natural mating when no diseases are present and good management practices are employed. When certain diseases enter the picture, especially venereal diseases, AI becomes an important factor in their control.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Artificial Insemination
Advantages of AI far outweigh the disadvantages:
- Genetic improvement through more accurate evaluation of transmitting ability of males, continued after the death of the male
- Use of semen from genetically elite sires increases the accuracy and intensity of selection
- Control of venereal or other diseases .It prevents the spread of certain diseases and sterility due to genital diseases such as contagious abortion, vibriosis.
- Improved record keeping on farms where used. It helps in maintaining the accurate breeding and cawing records.
- More economical than natural service when genetic merit is considered
- Safer by the elimination of dangerous bulls on the farm, especially for the dairy breeds
- More cows can be inseminated with semen from one bull enabling that bull to serve more females
- There is no need of maintenance of breeding bull for a herd; hence the cost of maintenance of breeding bull is saved.
- By regular examination of semen after collection and frequent checking on fertility make early detection of interior males and better breeding efficiency is ensured.
- The progeny testing can be done at an early age.
- The semen of a desired size can be used even after the death of that particular sire.
- The semen collected can be taken to the urban areas or rural areas for insemination.
- It makes possible the mating of animals with great differences in size without injury to either of the animal.
- It is helpful to inseminate the animals that are refuse to stands or accept the male at the time of estrus.
- It increases the rate of conception.
- Old, heavy and injured sires can be used.
Disadvantages of AI include:
- The amount of time livestock managers must spend checking females for estrus (heat).
- Some special facilities for corralling and insemination are required.
- Trained personnel are required to perform the technique.
- Necessitates the knowledge of the structure and function of reproduction on the part of operator.
- Improper cleaning of instruments and in sanitary conditions may lead to lower fertility.
- If the bull is not properly tested, the spreading of genital diseases will be increased.
- Market for bulls will be reduced, while that for superior bull is increased.
Preparations for insemination and sanitation
Here are some important steps to follow and points to remember:
- Ensure that the cow to be bred is truly in heat as it would be wasteful to inseminate a cow that is not on heat.
- Restrain the cow first and then thaw the semen. The restraint area should be familiar to the cow and free of stressful conditions. Unnecessary excitement may interfere with physiological mechanisms important to achieving a good conception rate.
- Develop good sanitary procedures and insemination practices. It is easier to learn good habits than to break bad habits.
- Insemination supplies should be kept dry and clean at all times. Breeding sheaths should be stored in the original package until used.
- Once the insemination device is assembled it must be protected from contamination and cold shock temperatures.
- Materials used to lubricate the rectum should not come in contact with the vulva region. Lubricants are generally spermicidal. Avoid using products that are irritating.
- The vulva region must be thoroughly wiped clean with a paper towel. This is important in helping prevent the interior of the reproductive tract from becoming contaminated and possibly infected. A folded paper towel can be inserted into the lower portion of the vulva. The insemination rod can then be placed between the folds of the towel and inserted into the vagina without contacting the lips of the vulva.
- Protective rods or sheaths are used in herds or for specific cows where vulvovaginal infection is a problem. When this system is used, the standard insemination rod and plastic sheath are inserted into the larger protective rod or sheath. This double rod combination is passed through the vagina to the external cervical opening. At the cervix, the tip of the protective device is punctured by the insemination rod, which is then threaded through the cervix. This technique should only be used following the recommendations of a veterinarian, extension specialist, or AI representative — and only when specific diseases have been diagnosed or suspected.
Process of Artificial Insemination
- First the semen is collected from males through artificial insemination methods
- Technicians make certain the semen contains sperm of sufficient quality and quantity to survive freezing and thawing with enough viable sperm to complete conception
- Semen is examined in the laboratory for foreign material and quality. Quality is determined by the number of sperm per millimeter of semen, how active sperm are (motility) and the shape of the sperm
- Semen is preserved by storing it in tanks of liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -320 degrees F or below
- At the time of insemination the semen containing the sperm is thawed, the technician then injects the semen into the female reproductive tract. This requires a degree of skill.
Evaluating success and need for retraining
Owner-inseminators should calculate the first-service conception rate for their herds during a 6-month interval. They should review breeding charts and consider only those cows that have been bred long enough to have been pregnancy checked. Strive for a goal of 45 percent first-service conception rate. In smaller herds there may not be enough first service during a 6-month period to determine the conception rate accurately. In that case, inseminators should summarize first services over 12 months or calculate the percentage of cows pregnant after three breedings. In very large herds, calculate conception rate more often than every 6 months.
In any size herd, services per conception is another index of breeding performance related to the effectiveness of insemination technique. A reasonable goal is to maintain a rate of fewer than 1.8 services for pregnant cows. Livestock producers must realize that other factors in addition to AI technique can affect conception rate and services per conception.
If an evaluation of your records indicates that your insemination technique may be a problem area, then you should consider attending an AI retraining session. The effectiveness of retraining is very significant. If the magnitude of improvement is high for professional technicians, it may be even greater for owner-inseminators. All inseminators should periodically attend a retraining course to review their technique, learn new developments, and obtain recommendations regarding AI technique.
Happy breeding season!