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Artificial insemination (A.I.) is a common method used to breed cattle. The process involves taking semen collected from a bull and depositing it in a cow. The primary advantage of A.I. is it allows breeders to select from a larger population of sires, making superior genetics available to more than just a few breeding operations. However, properly executing an A.I. program requires specialized knowledge and additional time.
Overview of A.I.
The artificial insemination process starts with the bull. Semen is collected from the bull, extended with a diluent and prepared for storage, if necessary. A veterinarian or A.I. technician then uses instruments to deposit the semen into a cow in estrus.
The biggest advantage of artificial insemination is that superior sires are made available to more than just a few, select breeding operations. Because semen can be stored and shipped, great sires from around the world can be introduced to cows over great distances. This increases the overall quality of the gene pool and can result in improving traits such as milk production. A.I. allows top sires to produce more offspring per year. With natural service, bulls typically breed 50 to 60 cows per breeding season. A.I. makes the number of cows exposed to top bulls virtually limitless. A wider variety of genetics are available to breeders through artificial insemination. A breeder who maintains a herd bull has to replace his sire every two years or so to avoid breeding a sire to his own daughters. A.I. makes crossbreeding easier and helps avoid inbreeding. There is actually no need for breeders to manage a herd bull if A.I. is effective. This saves the expense and headaches often associated with housing a breeding bull. If estrus among a cow herd is synchronized and cows are inseminated over a short time period, breeding and calving season become more concentrated.
Artificial insemination can be limiting if the proper resources are not available, so there are some disadvantages. A.I. requires specialized knowledge, trained individuals, and the time required to properly execute an effective A.I. program is considerably more than with natural service. The extra help and time can often mean added expense.
When deciding between artificial insemination and natural service, cattle producers should consider whether it is an ideal fit for their operation. A.I. requires adequate working facilities and skilled labor. If there is not a veterinarian or A.I. technician in the area it may be cost-prohibitive to use artificial insemination. A breeder needs to figure out if the costs saved by not housing a breed bull are greater than the added costs associated with A.I. However, A.I. may offer an opportunity to greatly increase the herd's genetics that is not available through natural service.
The dairy industry has used A.I. extensively. The USDA reported nearly half of all dairy females in the U.S. were bred using A.I. as early as 1970. According to the University of Mississippi, only about one in six beef cattle breeders use artificial insemination in their current breeding program today, but the practice continues to become more popular with beef producers.