Biotechnology in Cattle: Artificial Insemination

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working on several farms as breeding season for our cattle ramps up. As a part of my effort to share more information about biotechnology as it relates to cattle reproduction, this post will address the process we use when breeding cattle. Please leave any questions it may bring to mind in the comments section below or submit a direct message via the contact form on the Ask a Farmer page.

Artificial Insemination (AI) is the most valuable management practice to the cattle producer. The procedure makes efficient use of the generous supply of sperm available from an individual male in a manner that greatly increases genetic progress as well as improving reproductive efficiency in many situations.

Artificial Insemination: The deposition of sperm cells within the female reproductive tract by mechanical or instrumental means for the purpose of breeding.
Biotechnology: biological processes developed in the laboratory and made available in the commercial markets.

AI was the first biotechnology applied to improve reproduction and genetics of farm animals. Reproductive efficiency using AI is at least as good as using natural mating when no diseases are present and good management practices are employed. When certain diseases enter the picture, especially venereal diseases, AI becomes an important factor in their control.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Artificial Insemination

Advantages of AI far outweigh the disadvantages:

  1. Genetic improvement through more accurate evaluation of transmitting ability of males, continued after the death of the male
  2. Use of semen from genetically elite sires increases the accuracy and intensity of selection
  3. Control of venereal or other diseases
  4. Improved record keeping on farms where used
  5. More economical than natural service when genetic merit is considered
  6. Safer by the elimination of dangerous bulls on the farm, especially for the dairy breeds

Disadvantages of AI include the amount of time livestock managers must spend checking females for estrus. Some special facilities for corralling and insemination are required. Trained personnel are required to perform the technique.

Process of Artificial Insemination

  • First the semen is collected from males through artificial insemination methods

    artificial insemination AI cattle reproduction biotechnology
    Image courtesy of Select Sires AI training materials.
  • Technicians make certain the semen contains sperm of sufficient quality and quantity to survive freezing and thawing with enough viable sperm to complete conception
  • Semen is examined in the laboratory for foreign material and quality. Quality is determined by the number of sperm per millimeter of semen, how active sperm are (motility) and the shape of the sperm
  • Semen is preserved by storing it in tanks of liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -320 degrees F or below
  • At the time of insemination the semen containing the sperm is thawed, the technician then injects the semen into the female reproductive tract. This requires a degree of skill.

Artificial Insemination in Different Species

Merck Veterinary Manual gives a good overview of AI and reproductive technologies in many species:

This is an introduction to artificial insemination (AI) in livestock. If you have more specific questions, please leave a comment below or submit a question in the Ask a Farmer tab. Submissions will be used to answer questions in my series on biotechnology.

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