Monday, April 29, 2013

Let's Talk About Sex -- Artificial Insemination That Is

Me [to my beloved roommate]: "What should I blog about tonight?"
My Roommate: "Sex."
Me: "Fair enough."

Tonight we're going to be talking about the benefits that AI (Artificial Insemination) has brought to the table since its introduction to livestock production in 1935.

So for everyone out there that isn't an expert on it, here's how it works. First, semen is collected from the male animal of choice. For large animals such as horses and cows, breeding mounts are typically used, with an artificial vagina in them so that the male can have his way with it, and the collection of semen is a little easier than trying to do the dirty deed by hand. (Note, however, that doing it by hand using a variety of methods from masturbation to vibroejaculation is usually how it's done with smaller animals such as wolves and dogs).

Those sassy male wolves

Here are some actually educational photos:
IA tools brought from the USSR by Dr. Ing. Luis Thomasset in 1935 to work at Cambridge Laboratories and South America.

A breeding mount with an artificial vagina for cattle and horse semen collection

Back to the technique, the semen of the animal is collected and "extended." Semen extender is a liquid dilute that preserves the fertility of the semen, makes fertilization possible with fewer sperm and allows it to be transported to the female if she is a long distance away. The semen are also cooled or frozen for the same reason. The tubes that frozen semen are stored in are referred to as "straws." In order to make sure that the semen are still fertile for awhile after it has been frozen, the semen is mixed with a solution containing glycerol or other cryoprotectants. Sometimes antibiotics (like streptomycin) are added to the semen in order to protect against bacterial venereal diseases. After the semen has been sent to the location of the female, it is manually introduced into her reproductive tract.

AI has grown to be a very useful tool since its beginning, especially in the cattle industry; it allows farmers to nearly hand pick the traits he would like to introduce into his herd. AI also circumvents things like injuries during conception that sometimes happen with large animals. As mentioned before, this process makes fertilization possible with fewer sperm, allowing for far more straws to be produced and multiple cows to be fertilized, rather than the fertilization of a single cow through physical conception. Additionally, the farmer does not have to take care of the bull as he would if it were his own, saving the farmer money on feed and veterinary expenses. Disease transmission between animals is decreased as well, especially since antibiotics can be added to the semen before use.

Now let's focus on the benefits associated with trait selection, the true genetic side of AI. Probably the biggest improvement since the introduction of AI is the less likelihood of inbreeding. Before AI, it was altogether too common to accidentally breed related animals to each other, bringing out unwanted mutations and diseases. Presently, it is much easier to track the bloodlines of breeding pairs and avoid crossing those that are related. Now, if a farmer knows his cows have less than desirable  feet and legs, utters, milk yield, fat and protein yield, capacity, or "dairyness" (a physical appearance that is associated with good dairy cows), he can choose bulls that have proven to improve any of those traits in his offspring with other cows. This in itself is a huge help to dairy farmers to increase their milk production and ensure that his cows can produce more milk over a longer period of time.

So, dairy cattle sex? Good. Artificial dairy cattle sex? Even better.

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