A Day in the Life of an Artificial Insemination Technician
Artificial Insemination (AI) is a technical service used across many species with the intention of getting the animals served pregnant. The practice is also used as a means of increasing genetic diversity in offspring from the animals served. This article focuses on AI for dairy cows.
AI has many benefits but the main one is economical. Each straw contains on average 0.25ml of semen, which means that one ejaculation can produce 20 straws, theoretically achieving 20 pregnancies rather than on a one for one basis (see table below1). The ability to choose bulls from a catalogue gives farmers the option to increase performance values, e.g. protein and fat levels in milk. All bulls are ranked and given a monetary value of overall production, which has been ‘proven’ by their offspring or as a result of genomic DNA testing. This not only increases genetic potential within herds, but can prevent inbreeding in larger herds, as the possibility of purchasing semen is now global.
|Ejaculate volume||5 ml (range 1-15 ml)|
|Sperm concentration||1200 million/ml (range 300-2500 million/ml)|
|Total sperm per ejaculate||Typically 4-5 billion|
|Progressive motility||Greater than 30%|
|Morphology||Greater than 70% normal|
As a practicing AI technician, you begin by establishing what the farmer is looking to gain through the use of AI, selecting the bulls that will best suit the system and ensuring that they will not cause inbreeding issues.
The process is simple: arrive on farm complete with frozen semen stored in liquid nitrogen at −195°C, arm-length insemination gloves and a toolbox of required implements. Ensure all footwear and clothing is clean. Biosecurity is crucial: not all farms will have a footbath so ensure you are equipped with a bucket, brush and disinfectant to clean boots before entering the farm. This is of critical importance to avoid spreading disease, such as Foot-and-mouth, which caused such widespread devastation in 2001. Next, ensure that the animals to be served are secured in a way that is safe for both you and them, a forward facing crush with a headlock is ideal. Return to where all the gear is and make sure you know which straw is destined for which animal and write it down to ensure traceability, along with the date of service.
To prepare the straw, you take it out of the tank and defrost it for 30 seconds in water at 34°C, ensure the straw is bone dry using a paper towel before inserting it into the AI gun. Cut off the top centimetre of the straw and sheath both gun and straw, ensuring the semen does not come into contact with anything that could contaminate it – water, blood or bacteria on skin. Cover the entire gun with a sterile coverall and put the loaded gun down your back, between clothing layers, to maintain the temperature of the semen. Wear an arm-length glove on the arm that will be inserted into the rectum of the cow, with lube applied to hand for reduced discomfort to the animal. The semen is released in the uterine body, between the cervix and the two uterine horns. Repeat the process for all animals requiring service, ensuring that all equipment is clean and appropriately managed between serving each animal. Wash boots with disinfectant before leaving.
Having been a technician on three farms this season from April to June, it is extremely rewarding to learn that the animals served are in calf, but the whole process takes time, as real results are not reaped until the calves have in turn calved themselves and are producing milk – 20 months after insemination!
The service is a combination of trust and practicality, often the farmer will not be present when the insemination occurs, which is another reason why all the records must be accurate. You are responsible for your own safety as well as biosecurity when moving between different farms, so ensure your practice is exemplary and nothing can be traced back to you. Heat detection is often the farmer’s responsibility, so a bad result could also be down to heat detection. If this is the case, the company in charge of the technician will have advisors to benefit the farmer, with the use of aids or sync programmes.
by Ariadne Kidson, BSc
Bio-Genesys Technical Sales Manager