Although often overlooked, semen handling is just as important to the success or failure of artificial insemination (AI) as all other steps, said Warren Rusche, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist.
"Factors such as insemination timing, semen placement, estrous detection and synchronization protocols usually receive the most focus; however, semen handling is equally important," Rusche said. "A successful artificial insemination (AI) program is the result of all the separate steps done correctly."
Rusche reminds cattle producers that the sperm cells in the straw of semen are live organisms that must undergo the stress of thawing before they can fertilize an egg. Additional stressors such as thermal shock or exposure to ultraviolet light could result in reduced viability of sperm cells, and in extreme cases result in the death of all of the sperm cells in the straw.
Before the start of the breeding season, Rusche said it is a good practice to review the proper semen handling procedures.
"There is simply too much money and time invested in artificial insemination only to end up with compromised semen," he said.
Online video refresher available
To help reinforce the correct semen handling procedures, SDSU Extension has developed an online video. The video describes the proper semen handling and thawing procedure as well as the necessary equipment.
"Sometimes 'show and tell' is the best approach to make sure that a concept sticks,'" Rusche said.
Beef producers often only breed cattle for a few weeks each year and lessons learned during AI training sometimes fade over time. Reviewing the principles and procedures annually can be a valuable refresher.
"Making sure that all needed supplies are on hand is another step that could prevent costly errors or delays," Rusche said.
He encourages cattle producers to take inventory of the AI kit to ensure the necessary equipment is located where it is supposed to be. The same is true of the semen tank.
"Knowing where the right straws are located reduces the amount of time spent searching when the cow or heifer is in the chute," he said.
Electric thaw baths have become more popular because they keep the water at a constant temperature, which eliminates the need to add warm water to a thermos. A step that is often overlooked is to check to make sure that the thaw bath is warming water to the correct temperature. Occasionally these units will need calibration to keep the water temperatures in the recommended 94 to 98 degree Fahrenheit range.
To learn more, view the video: