Questions & Answers
What is artificial insemination?
Artificial insemination is a technique involving the artificial injection of sperm-containing semen from a male into a female to cause a pregnancy. Artificial insemination or AI is reported to have first been recorded in 1780 when semen from a male dog was injected into a female dog. In the 1930’s the technique was first reported in use in the United States. In 1949 a technique of freezing semen was developed, which allowed large quantities of semen from one individual to be stored, and even used, long after the death of the producer of the semen. The technology and use of artificial insemination in not new, but has been improved in leaps and bounds since it was first developed and in now very practically and economically feasible.
What are the advantages of using AI?
Artificial insemination provides the cow-calf producer an opportunity to use bulls possessing superior genetics that may otherwise be unavailable due to costs. A producer, through AI, essentially has the ability to breed his or her cattle to any sire that semen has been collected and is available from. Depending upon the needs and goals of an individual's breeding program, AI offers an economically feasible means of increasing productivity over a wide range of traits. A producer, using expected progeny differences (EPD’s), can select a sire from many thousands of sires, which possesses the traits that he or she is looking for in his or her operation. Many of these elite sires have accuracy levels associated with them based on previous performance, which can allow for well matched sire selection, depending on a producers level of risk acceptance. If a producer in concerned with dystocia in a group of first-calf heifers, he or she can select a sire to help protect against potential calving difficulties. If growth is of high importance, it too can be achieved through proper sire selection and the artificial insemination of females using semen from that selected sire.
What do I need to be aware of when using AI?
The missing or limiting ingredient in implementing a successful AI program is often in the area of management. The use ofAI requires a sound management program. When establishing an effective AI program, a step by step approached may be the best plan of attack. Some of the factors to be considered are: 1) implementation of a sound and efficient record keeping system; 2) a sound nutrition program; 3) well-designed, strong cattle handling facilities; 4) a sound, effective herd health program; 5) accurate heat detection; 6) a knowledgeable, well trained A.I. Technician.
The use of accurate and complete records is essential in the implementation of any AI program. For an AI program to be successful, a manager must know important information, including calving date, date of first postpartum estrus, incidence and severity of dystocia, and individual cow ages. Individual cow identification is also a necessary part of a successful record keeping system. This is very simple and cheap through the use of ear tags. Another effective form of identification is a brand, either a hot iron brand or freeze brand.
AI facilities should provide an efficient means of sorting and restraining individual females. They need not be expensive or elaborate, but functional, strong, and solid. They should be designed and constructed in a manner which will reduce stress on the cattle, as this will have an effect on conception rates.
Without proper nutrition, any breeding program, either with natural service or artificial insemination will NOT be successful. Nutrition can have an astronomical effect on the fertility of a cow herd. Nutritional requirements are dependent upon many factors. Nutrients are utilized by the female in a specific order. Nutrients are first diverted towards those functions most essential to the survival of the cow and her calf. If the female is not provided with the adequate amount of nutrients, the reproductive functions of the cow will be jeopardized. When this happens, the cow's ability to cycle regularly, and to conceive and maintain a pregnancy is often impaired.
Reproductive performance and the ultimate success of an AI program can be greatly affected by the health status of the cow herd. Many diseases affect the reproductive performance of the herd and therefore, vaccination schedules should be implemented and followed, as this is the most effective protection against them. The use of AI can aid in preventing against or spreading many of these diseases as they, for the most part, are sexually transmitted. All semen collected in the United States must be tested negative for these diseases, thus females that may be affected will have a lesser impact on the health of the herd due to the decrease in the amount of natural copulation as a bull will transfer disease from cow to cow.
Conception is dependent upon proper timing of insemination. Insemination 10-14 hours following standing heat is the best way of ensuring proper timing. Accurately identifying the period of standing estrus or heat is often the most difficult aspect of an AI program. Heat detection is difficult because it requires a serious commitment of time and careful observation of the cow herd at several times during the day. Estrus detection also requires a practical understanding of the cow's behavioral responses and physical reactions around and including estrus.
The final ingredient in a successful artificial insemination program is a properly trained and knowledgeable A.I. technician. Effective training sessions are conducted throughout the United States.
Two important areas which require the most emphasis are placed are semen handling and proper placement of the semen in the female’s reproductive tract. Extreme caution must be exercised when handling semen as sperm are very susceptible to the environment. Palpation of the reproductive tract and development of a good AI technique require practice and repetition.
What is estrous synchronization?
In conjunction with artificial insemination, estrus synchronization can also be incorporated . Estrous synchronization is simply the manipulation of estrus. It can easily be implemented through industry standardized protocols. This allows for a reduction in time and labor, both at the time of insemination and at calving. Many calves can be born within just a few days, allowing a producer to concentrate his or her resources into a few days rather than a long calving season. This will also increase the uniformity and average weaning weight of offspring, as more calves will be born at the beginning of the calving season. The cost of estrus synchronization is relatively minimal when compared to the savings in time and labor, especially in first-calf heifers. In spite of this enormous potential to improve production levels, many beef producers have not put themselves in a position to take advantage of the benefits offered by AI.
What is embryo transfer?
The first transfer of a bovine embryo was reported in 1949. The first calf from embryo transfer was born in 1951. Application of embryo transfer to the cattle industry began in the early 1970s when European dual-purpose breeds of cattle became popular in North America, Australia and New Zealand. Breeders and speculators sought means to circumvent the high costs and lengthy quarantine periods linked to the importation of European breeding stock and to capitalize on premium prices that progeny from these rare dams and sires could command.
Thus, demand for embryo transfer services existed in advance of the ability of veterinarians and reproductive physiologists to supply them. This considerable economic incentive, however, inspired rapid development of practical techniques for super-ovulation and surgical recovery and transfer of bovine embryos. Within a short period of time, the supply of these desired genetics increased to a point where embryo transfer services were no longer as highly sought after. During this short-lived boom techniques had been improved and became more cost effective.
The development of procedures for non-surgical recovery, transfer, and cryopreservation of embryos became a great asset to the industry. With these improvements and a more realistic economic motivation, the industry now plays a useful role in the cattle industries of many countries (Seidel and Seidel, 1981).
The main use of embryo transfer in cattle has been to amplify reproductive rates of valuable females. Because of low reproductive rates and long generation intervals, embryo transfer is especially useful in this species. Cattle may be valuable for many reasons, including scarcity, proven genetic value, or having unique characteristics. Ideally, embryo transfer is used to satisfy both genetic and financial objectives simultaneously. It is possible to increase reproductiverates of valuable cows by an average of tenfold or more in a given year and fivefold or more per lifetime with current embryo transfer techniques. This amplification will increase substantially as new technologies are perfected.