Make Artificial Insemination Work for You

This process can help you expand your herd in a safe, cost-effective way—and that’s no bull.

| November/December 2020

cows 
Photo by Adobe Stock/DelphPhotoStock

The invention of the microscope allowed researchers to discover sperm cells and their role in reproduction — a boon to farmers and ranchers. Artificial insemination (AI) took off in Russia in the early 20th century with the development of extenders that allowed a single dose of semen to be used on multiple females. In 1949, an English biologist whose expertise was in cryopreservation unlocked the secrets of long-term preservation and storage of semen.

Fast-forward to today, and all of these developments have made it relatively easy for homesteaders to direct the breeding program on their farms.

How AI Works

For AI to be successful, you need a sample of semen from a donor male. The methods and challenges of collection vary from species to species, but once a sample is collected, the same rule applies: Handle the sample carefully. Semen is susceptible to temperature shock, and must be preserved quickly once out of the male donor. Typically, an AI technician then evaluates the sample, calculates how many sperm cells are in the ejaculate, and decides how many doses of semen can be obtained (known as “semen extension”). Much depends on the quality of the fresh sample: Bull ejaculate can produce as few as 50 doses of semen, or as many as 500. Once extended, the semen is packaged into straws, and frozen in liquid nitrogen (LN2) for long-term storage.



Facilities that collect semen usually specialize in specific species, because of the differing requirements in handling live animals and their semen; some facilities collect cattle, sheep, and goats, while others specialize in swine.

Properly collected semen can be stored indefinitely in a collection facility, usually for a small monthly fee. These facilities maintain hundreds of thousands of samples in huge LN2 tanks, with backup systems and protocols to prevent loss.



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