Why your cow can't get pregnant after using AI

An employee shows how they store Artificial Insemination (AI) used for dairy breeding at Kaptama Dairy Farmers’ Cooperative Society located in Kaptama village, Mt. Elgon Sub County and Bungoma County [Nanjinia Wamuswa, Standard]

I am a dairy farmer, now for over six years since my retirement. I always use Artificial Insemination, but it has not been easy though. I have suffered several repeats which end up pushing my costs up. I am tempted to go back to using bulls but again through your column, I think it is not the way to go especially in this era and age of technological advancement. Please advise.

Tony Onyango, Muhoroni.

Thanks, Tony, for your question. Yes, Artificial Insemination has many advantages compared to using the bull. Artificial Insemination is relatively cheap, safe and a good way of improving genetics for whichever trait. But it also comes with its challenges which you need to understand if you want to enjoy the advantages.

Because you are practicing Artificial Insemination, I will stick to the reasons that will make a cow not conceive. From the start, it must be noted that sometimes there are always that group of animals that will not conceive on the first attempt but will come back on heat and conceive on the next attempt. However, there are cows that won’t just get pregnant after several inseminations and those are the ones we shall discuss today. If this happens, certainly there is an underlying health, anatomical, or nutritional condition or it could be also a farmer in the wrong timing and poor-quality semen that makes conception impossible.

She fails to ovulate

The presence of a viable ovum or egg is the first prerequisite for a pregnancy to happen later after fertilization. A cow may fail to ovulate when they are in poor body condition. This may result from poor nutrition or other diseases.


Leptospirosis and Bovine Viral Diarrhea are common diseases that can result in embryonic deaths (early pregnancy losses and infertility). There are still many more other diseases that can cause abortions like Brucellosis and Rift Valley Fever.

When an animal is under stress, they may fail to conceive. Heat stress is specifically detrimental to the young embryo and causes early pregnancy loss. Poor body condition has a negative effect on conception.

Because insemination should be done at the right time when the ovum is at the right stage and place. Similarly, the sperm in the semen also has a lifespan within which it can fertilise the ovum. This is normally decided by the farmer who observes the heat signs and then calls in an inseminator. If the farmer is wrong on this, then the cow will not conceive. The optimal time is between 4 and 16 hours after the onset of heat signs.

Poor quality semen

The semen must be of good quality for the fertilisation of the ovum. This quality is normally lowered if the semen is not stored well at the requisite temperatures or beyond their expiry dates. Semen quality can also be compromised during the thawing process or when the liquid nitrogen levels are low.

[Dr Othieno is a veterinary surgeon and currently the head of communications at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Kenya. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of FAO but his own]

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