When performed well, DIY artificial insemination can be of major benefit to livestock farmers, but with the danger of bad habits and poor technique reducing herd performance.
The success of DIY artificial insemination (AI) is largely determined by the skill of the inseminator which can be extremely variable. This is according to John Dawson, of Willows Veterinary Group and Embryonics.
He says: “Skill levels can deteriorate and over time bad habits can creep in unnoticed, leading to poor pregnancy rates. In order to avoid deteriorating pregnancy rates, it is advisable to have all the on-farm inseminators periodically assessed to determine their ability and correct any part of their procedure which is under par. It is quite common for seasonally calving herds to have their DIY inseminators routinely assessed and something which all-year-round calving herds should definitely consider if they do not already do so.”
Mr Dawson says there are a number of common problems identified during the DIY AI assessments including semen preparation, hygiene insemination technique, confidence and cow numbers.
He says: “Removal of the semen straw from the tank is sometimes done by fingers. As one straw is picked from the canister with the warm finger the remaining surrounding straws are also warmed up. After several straws have been removed the remaining surrounding straws will have been warmed several times. Repetitive warming and cooling can kill the semen, a problem intensified when using sexed straws.
“The process of sexing the semen potentially compromises the semen and sexed straws can contain lower numbers of sperm per straw.
“Contamination can play an important part in reducing pregnancy rates, caused either through semen inactivation or infection of the uterus and subsequent failure of implantation. The contamination problems can occur at several levels but the most common is the scissors. The scissors come in direct contact with the semen, no other instrument does this.
“The scissors are used to cut through the lumen of the straw containing the semen just above the semen level, and so can easily contaminate the semen if not properly sterilised. It is therefore essential the scissors are kept clean. Another dirty scissors problem is cross semen contamination where semen is carried from one straw to the next one on the blade.
“Occasionally bad habits have crept into the actual insemination technique. Posture, handling facilities, attitude and stress can all affect the outcome. Relaxed inseminators perform best.”
In some herds, cow numbers are low and therefore inseminators do not get enough of a chance to maintain their skill level.
Mr Dawson says: “It is essential the inseminator has had a period with reasonable cow numbers to inseminate after initial training in order for them to have the experience to inseminate low numbers.
“Many seasonally calving herds have their inseminators checked just prior to breeding season. This refreshes their technique and ensures their skill level is at its highest when the breeding season starts – with only a 12-week window to get all cows in-calf it is essential.
"However, it is as essential in any herd, no matter what the calving patterns is, that cows inseminated get in-calf.”
“Often it is just the lack of confidence causing a poor technique and poor pregnancy rates. The assessment is of great advantage as confidence can be built up through encouragement, while performing the procedure under supervision.
“Overall the standard found during assessments is very good as the insemination technique is similar to riding a bike, once learnt never forgotten. But just like riding a bike it does take a few metres to regain total balance if it has not been used for a long time and sometime the confidence to tackle the steep hill deteriorates.”