September 21, 2023

Artificial insemination: The supplies you’ll need, plus best practices to follow

Artificial insemination gives producers access to high-powered genetics for their operation’s goals. Let’s look at the supplies you’ll need and best practices for the most success.

Getting Started

If you’re interested in beginning an AI program in your herd, I suggest to first speak with your veterinarian to help identify a Bovine Artificial Insemination Training Course that would be right for you, or to connect with a trained specialist.

When considering sire selection, I recommend that producers speak with their herd health veterinarian about:

• Goals for your calf crop.

• Desired expected progeny differences, detailing anything from calving ease to carcass traits, maternal traits and more.

• Which animals they plan to AI, whether just heifers or both cows and heifers.

• Considerations for a clean-up bull.

Proper insemination technique and the selection of synchronization protocols are really important. Another important factor is nutrition.

Make sure to keep the heifers in a good state of nutrition. A poor plan of nutrition can affect her fertility.

The heifers and cows need to be in a positive energy balance and gaining weight — or at a very minimum, maintaining weight.

Receiving high protein levels and an excellent trace mineral program will also increase chances for success.

Supplies Needed

• Stainless-steel AI gun.

• Straw cutter or scissors.

• Non-spermicidal lubricant.

• Thermometer.

• Thaw unit — water bath or wide-mouth thaw thermos.

• Disposable items, including split plastic sheaths, sanitary covers, plastic palpation gloves and paper.

• Hemostats for use instead of tweezers.

• Disposable sheath protector tubes, to minimize contamination.

Be sure to clean and disinfect the items in the AI kit both before and after using. Clean the items with warm water and soap to make sure all residue is rinsed off.

Then, disinfect using chlorohexidine. Beware that disinfectants can be spermicidal, so producers should rinse well so they don’t affect the fertility of the semen sample.

Producers may also want to consider their options for timed-AI or heat detection, of which there are many options on the market today.

Best Practices

Handling the storage tank:

• Frozen semen should be kept in a liquid nitrogen tank. The storage tanks have a handle with a cup; that’s where the semen straws are kept. Always ensure skin never comes in direct contact with the inside of the tank or contents within it. Use an oven glove or an insulated leather glove, and use either a hemostat or tweezers, to pick up the straws to avoid direct contact with skin.

• Be as quick as possible. Having good organization will help producers avoid keeping the tank open too long, risking damage to the sperm. A good way to avoid this issue is by knowing their inventory and having different compartments for the different bulls.

• Maintain a proper temperature in the tank, which is minus-184 degrees. Also, maintain 3 inches of liquid nitrogen on the bottom of the tank. The best way to monitor the level of liquid nitrogen is by using a wooden yard stick. If the tank ever loses its seal, producers will notice some frost. This will indicate it’s not maintaining proper temperature inside, and if the semen doesn’t stay at that perfect temperature, it will lose fertility.

Thawing the straws:

• Improperly thawing the semen will decrease the fertility in the sperm. Warm water thawing is industry standard, and cattlemen can do that by using either a commercial thawing unit, like a water bath, or an insulated thermos.

• The industry standard temperature is 90 to 95 degrees water; thaw the straw for 40 seconds. Use a thermometer and a timer. Different semen suppliers may have different recommendations for thawing; follow their recommendations.

• Thaw straws individually. Cows need to be inseminated within 15 minutes from thawing. A best practice is to thaw a straw after the cow is caught, then inseminate her.

• After thawing, don’t allow the straws to cool off at all. Keep the straw in a shirt pocket to stay at that core body temperature. If the sperm are cold-shocked, it will affect sperm motility or even kill them. Also, keep in mind UV sunlight is harmful, too.

Proper Technique

• Sanitation is significantly important during insemination to avoid carrying any bacteria into the uterus, which could cause infection. Using paper towels, wipe off any feces near the lips of the vulva and inside the visible vaginal wall before inseminating. Avoid using any disinfectants; those can be spermicidal.

• During insemination, the easiest way to minimize contamination and advance the straw is with some help from the producer’s arm that is in rectally. Put some downward pressure on that arm to spread apart the lips of the vulva. When inserting the straw, go at an upward angle of about 30 degrees.

• When advancing the straw and there is any resistance, using the hand that’s in rectally, take the cervix and push it in forward to straighten out the vagina.

• Getting the straw through the cervix can take some practice, but there are some ways to make it easier. It’s common to experience some difficulty here because there is a pouch all the way around the cervix called the fornix; it’s easy to get stuck in this blind pouch. When advancing the straw, make sure to be in the middle of the cervix. And rather than pushing the straw through the cervix, hold the straw firmly and then with the hand that is rectal, grasp the cervix and pull the cervix over the straw.

• The last point is to avoid going too deep into the uterus. If the straw gets into one of the horns of the uterus, instead of staying in the body, there is risk of unsuccessfully inseminating that cow because they ovulate from only one side. So, if she is inseminated from the wrong side on accident, the sperm simply will not get to the right side in which she is ovulating.

Tony Hawkins attended Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. In addition to his role on the technical service team at Valley Vet Supply, he owns a mixed-practice veterinary clinic in northeast Kansas.