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Artificial Insemination: The Basics

Discussion in 'Breeds & Breeding - Cattle' started by Wehner Homestead, Apr 12, 2018.

  1. Apr 12, 2018
    Wehner Homestead

    Wehner Homestead Herd Master

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    I’ve been asked about Artificial Insemination or AI. I thought I’d start a thread that covers the basics and it could be developed from there. Feel free to ask any questions...if I don’t know the answer, I have several resources that I can use to get the answer.

    Semen: Semen is collected from bulls at facilities where viability can be checked and the semen can be frozen quickly to insure quality. It is frozen in 3 and 5 ml “straws.” Each straw is good for one breeding attempt. A straw can cost anywhere from $5 to $500+ each with $20-35 each being most common.
    0D89F2C6-6CF5-40CB-85AA-D6F1413891B0.jpeg
    Semen can be purchased as sexed, either male or female. This semen doesn’t have as high of a success rate. Some estimate that it’s about 60% versus about 75% with a standard straw. There is also always a chance that the wrong gender can occur, despite paying the extra $50-300 per straw for sexed semen.

    Bull selection is key. For heifers that are Calving for the first time, the key is a live calf! You want a proven, Calving ease bull. EPD’s for purebred bulls are often available and give you an added edge of safety. (Remember that the bull only provides half of the genetics for the calf though so your female is providing the other half.) Some breeds have more bulls that are known for ease of Calving. Your semen rep can help you with which bulls they carry that meet your requirements. (EPD’s is a completely different post that I’ll try to get around to one of these days!)

    Semen Storage: Some species can have semen stored (essentially indefinitely) in a semen tank. Cattle are one of those species. Tanks vary in size. For example, ours can hold 200 straws. Owning a tank presents its own necessities as you have to have it refilled with liquid nitrogen every 3 months. We have a local dairy farmer that “services” our tank. We pay $40 to have it refilled every 3 months. He has a key to our shop so that he can access the tank if we aren’t home. He leaves the bill and we mail him a check.

    Tanks must be stored in a cool, dry place. They cannot sit on the ground, on concrete, or be jostled around or knocked over. Ours sits on a solid wood pallet in our shop where the temperature is fairly consistent. When we transport our tank, it gets seatbelted in a seat to protect it from jarring.
    14D042DA-4908-4A16-8E2C-76A303EEEEBC.jpeg
    Tanks can be expensive to purchase. (Several hundred to a $1000 depending on size and features.) It depends on what size you are looking for. You also don’t want a tank that’s been allowed to go “dry” as it may not hold a charge as effectively. Sometimes, used tanks can be found and purchased. Occasionally these used tanks will be sold with semen in them that you may be able to use.

    Semen Representatives: Numerous companies distribute semen and have associates that provide breeding services. For a small operation, this may be the best way to go. Make a contact that services your area and pay them to do the breeding and store your semen/buy from their stock.

    It’s necessary to have someone that is trained to perform the service. There are supplies that are necessary. If you want to go to a training yourself, the different companies offer trainings but they are several hundred dollars and three days for the training, plus travel, food, and accomodations. To have someone come to you to perform the service for you, you’ll pay a farm visit, then a service fee for each animals. In our area, the service visit is $35 and then it’s $20 to service each female (we supply the semen and give a hormone shot to help the female “stick.” This shot can vary in cost up to $20 when coming from your vet or service person.)

    One of the advantages to having someone service your females for you is that they have done this numerous times and typically have a much higher rate of success. Practice and performing the service regularly definitely play a role in success.

    Kits are required to have the necessary breeding supplies. These cost about $100 depending on how fancy you want to go and the supplies have to be replaced as necessary.
    BC573307-3730-4416-BDC5-09A536E39856.jpeg

    Breeding: Timing is everything! When breeding with the AI method, the service should occur 12 hrs after standing heat. (A female that does not stand still to be ridden is not in standing heat. This can occur before or after standing heat.) Standing heat can be difficult to observe. Some females only stand for a very short period of time. Weather can also effect the heats drastically. Very hot conditions can make it difficult to catch a female standing as the cattle don’t ride much when it’s hot.

    One method of detecting heats without direct observation would be to use a heat patch. These are nice because the FULL color only appears after standing heat. Unfortunately, they are sold in sets of 20 and are only good for one year. If you are a small breeder, you may see if you can go in with someone to buy the patches or see if your service person can help you obtain just what you need.

    These are the particular patches that we prefer to use. We apply as directed but have had a few cows scrape the patch completely off their body. To prevent this, we’ve started applying three very small dots to each patch immediately prior to applying. (One dot on each end and in the middle.) We’ve had no issue with the patches coming off over time from the oil that the cows naturally produce and shedding.
    5E61ECC8-F3AB-4D51-983D-8DA795F34E56.png
    Cycles: Female bovines typically cycle every 21 days. Heat detection can be more difficult with smaller groups as some may not react as strongly to others cycling.

    Gestation: Most bovine gestational are 283 days give or take up to a week on average. Some breeds are known for going shorter or longer. Heifers (first time calvers) are known to go up to 2 weeks early without issue.

    I actually use an iPhone app from the company that my rep works for. The home page looks like this: 6EFDBBCE-788E-4CB9-ABDB-BDAC1110B6E7.png
    I like that I can do a quick bull search and get information, calculate due dates easily, and there is also a way to synchronize several females. This app can help you calculate all of that. I’ll save synchronization for another day those as it’s in depth and we’ve had better success with breeding on natural heats.
     
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  2. Apr 12, 2018
    Wehner Homestead

    Wehner Homestead Herd Master

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    Bull Selection: I mentioned EPDs. I’m not going into all of the specifics but I will show you one.

    This is screen shots on a bull that’s in our tank from the app I mentioned above.
    04BD7EAB-B405-4916-8399-E21A01DFE196.png DB2D3074-6EF3-4D0F-9F9D-8C02FEBD4D16.png

    The “CE” stands for Calving Ease. So his Calving ease is 9.3. Anything negative is not considered Calving ease and anything over 10 is typically considered heifer safe. The number directly under 9.3 is 0.68, meaning that it’s a 68% reported accuracy on his calculated Calving ease.

    This is VERY basic but I wanted anyone reading this to be able to tell if a bull should be considered heifer safe or not. The % tells you if that is proven or not. I prefer 65% accuracy or greater when breeding heifers.

    Another decision related to bulls would be whether your goal is clubby (show) or commercial. I’m going to assume that the goal for those reading this is commercial. The different companies will list different breeds and types under sections. Angus and Red Angus are popular commercial breeds that typically offer Calving ease options and are readily available in most areas.
     
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  3. Apr 12, 2018
    Wehner Homestead

    Wehner Homestead Herd Master

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    Companies that sell semen and have reps that can help you either by providing services or help you find someone that is trained in your area. (List may not be complete but is as close as I can get it.)

    Select Sires
    Cattle Visions
    ABS Global
    Genex
    SEK - Genetic Horizons
    ORIgen
    Bovine Elite
    Semex

    Some semen can be obtained from individuals that will sell a straw or few out of their tank. Some breeders will sell semen on a bull that they own or advertise.
     
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  4. Apr 12, 2018
    Wehner Homestead

    Wehner Homestead Herd Master

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    @RollingAcres Here is a start. I’ll continue to add to this as time allows. Please post questions here and I’ll respond as promptly as possible.
     
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  5. Apr 12, 2018
    RollingAcres

    RollingAcres Herd Master

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    @Wehner Homestead Thanks a bunch! There's a lot to learn and there will be questions to come. I'm trying to read through everything first then ask any questions I may have, I know I will have lots. ;)
     
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  6. Apr 12, 2018
    Wehner Homestead

    Wehner Homestead Herd Master

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    Ask away! I intend to read back over everything I’ve posted later and add to what I may have overlooked.
     
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  7. Apr 12, 2018
    promiseacres

    promiseacres Herd Master

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    this is fascinating. I have a equine science degree and we AI horses at school, but I know cattle are WAY more easier. Pigs too. :thumbsup
     
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  8. Apr 12, 2018
    RollingAcres

    RollingAcres Herd Master

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    @Wehner Homestead , Question on cows in heat, we have noticed bloody discharge on our older heifer (Mama Bertie) a few months now, is that what you meant by standing heat? Or does that occur before/after standing heat? I think I have recorded the dates when we saw the bloody discharge. Sorry if I've asked stupid questions. :hide
     
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  9. Apr 12, 2018
    Wehner Homestead

    Wehner Homestead Herd Master

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    Not a stupid question! Blood can appear at any stage of heat for cattle. Some bleed right before, others during, and some after. Most common from my experience has been the day after. They usually have a lot of clear discharge the day of.

    Standing heat refers to being ridden. Cattle mount each other when one is in heat or close. Basically, that is when the female would stand still to be serviced by a live bull. If no bull is present, another bovine could signal when standing heat is. This isn’t always the case though as some animals seem to be unaffected by the hormones whereas others are highly affected. If a female isn’t ready to receive the bull, she will walk out from under the rider. Sometimes females in heat will ride other cattle that they are penned with also.

    AI should occur as close to 12 hrs after standing heat as possible.
     
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  10. Apr 12, 2018
    RollingAcres

    RollingAcres Herd Master

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    So as a start, for heifers that are calving for the first time, we should look for a high # listed for CE with high accuracy %, correct?

    After AI is done, how do you tell if the AI is successful or not?
     
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