Dear Daktari, I have really been frustrated by this Artificial Insemination (AI) idea and I am almost giving up on it because it has failed several times. I have been using AI on my farm but the failure rate of conception is proving to be too high. I am thinking of going back to using a bull for conception.
Thank you, Mr Akundabwani for reaching out to us. AI can be a frustrating affair and I totally understand where you are coming from. This is not the first time this question is being asked by farmers and I am sure it will not be the last one.
Artificial Insemination has many advantages over using a bull. With AI, you make lots of saving as the cost of the service is much lower than keeping a bull for breeding. You can only use a bull for a limited number of mating and you will have to cull it to avoid inbreeding which has a number of undesirable outcomes. To prevent the spread of reproductive diseases in cattle, AI is the way to go.
Despite these benefits, I have received a lot of complaints from farmers about AI’s low conception rates. What could be the cause? A successful conception of AI is dependent on a number of factors. These factors are in three different entities and like a chain, the strength of the whole process is measured at the weakest link.
For a successful conception of AI, the technology has to be right and the effectiveness of this is in the hands of the inseminator.
The farmer observes the heat signs and calls the inseminator and this must be done within the right time schedule. The cow that is receiving the semen should be in the right health state and within the most “fertile” time for conception.
Role of the inseminator
The inseminator like the other three entities is important in the whole process. However, the challenge is that the inseminator does not live with the cow; he or she only comes in to do the insemination at the invitation of the farmer.
The inseminator comes with straws of semen normally stored in liquid nitrogen at low temperatures. This low temperature must be maintained. Any failures here kill the semen and this affects the success of conception.
Similarly, proper thawing should be done prior to insemination and the semen should be deposited at the right place in the reproductive tract. Inseminators are trained to handle semen and even how to do insemination. That’s why it is important to deal with a trained inseminator. A simple history tracking from fellow farmers may help.
Role of the farmer
Normally it is the farmer who observes for heat signs and calls the inseminator. This has to be done keenly. For starters, heat signs include, mounting other cows, mucus discharge from the vulva, swelling and reddening of the vulva, head raising, and lip curling, bellowing, restlessness, trailing, rubbed tail head hair, and dirty flanks.
The AM/PM or morning/evening rules should be applied in deciding the best time to call the inseminator. This simply means that if the cow starts showing the heat signs in the morning it will best conceive when served 12 hours later that is in the evening. Similarly, if it starts in the evening then it should be served in the morning. An inseminator who does not follow this is probably interested in your money more than successful insemination.
If you are a farmer and call the inseminator but he comes late outside the “fertile” times, it is wise to wait for the next cycle (usually 21 days) before the procedure is done.
Before the AI is done, the cow must be in the right state of health. An animal that has just lost weight due to disease or nutritional reasons may not support early embryonic development even if the insemination was done right and the animal conceived. Animals suffering from reproductive system diseases may also not conceive. Above all the right time during her heat signs should be identified for higher chances of conception.
[The writer is Vet of the Year Award winner and works in Division of Communication and Vet Advisory Services within Directorate of Veterinary Services; [email protected]]