Growing up I remember going to livestock shows with my father. I enjoyed walking down the isles of the barn and seeing the cattle, sheep, goats, and my all-time favorite animal, pigs. I loved their personalities and the relationships that I built with my show pigs and the work that went into raising them is what made me a hard working young man and a proud agriculturalist. With all of these experiences I have learned so much and know run a plentiful swine operation with my own boars and sows.
I breed for certain characteristics such as structural soundness, carcass merit, and balance in order to produce the perfect pig. Although, the idea of the “perfect” pig might be a little far-fetched, thanks to an advanced breeding enhancement method, Artificial Insemination, this dream could come true.
Artificial insemination (AI) is the collection of sperm and introducing it into the vagina in an artificial manner (Artificial, 2018). This method was first used in breeding cattle and horses, seeing as they possess larger reproductive organs and we more easily accessible without surgery (Artificial, 2018).
Thanks to advancement in this, we have developed methods to conduct the same procedures in pigs, sheep, and being more recently explored in goats. The purpose of such technology is because of its wide variety of benefits. Artificial insemination allows producers to increase safety, genetic variation, as well as allows an avenue for producers to market their animals and further spread the quality of livestock.
There are several important characteristics that are selected for in production agriculture.
In females these include structural correctness, a balanced look from the side, and rib and body. In males traits include structural correctness, a balanced look from the side, and muscle and power. Structural correctness is vital seeing as these animals will be moving around the pasture, potentially carrying babies or mounting females. A balanced look contributes to the physical appeal of an animal and in their ability to maintain that in production for marketing. Power, muscle, and body all correlate to infusing carcass merit in the offspring which makes them profitable when harvested (Favreau, 2018). Natural breeding prevents from selecting certain animals and matching them to render desirable characteristics (Artificial, 2018). However, artificial insemination allows for exactly that.
So how is this process completed? According to the article, A Brief History of Selling Livestock Semen, the first documented AI was all the way back in 1784 (Favreau, 2018). Since then the procedure has followed many of the same aspects. First there is the collection of the semen. The same procedure follows for nearly every species. A stud is used for mounting by the male animal as it simulates a standing heat that is typically found in female animals which indicates that they are ready to mate. The male animal mounts the stud and a fake vagina is inserted by hand onto the penis where they then ejaculate into. From there a specialists takes the semen into a facility where it is dispensed into straws which will become its permanent vessel before being utilized for AI (Short, 2015).
Storage of semen is done by freezing it. Freezing the semen preserves it for a long period of time so that it can be used when it is needed. Frozen semen is placed in large tanks full of liquid nitrogen that can maintain such cold temperatures. Semen can be shipped to buyers in different states or even countries. When it is time to thaw the semen for AI, the straw is simply placed in warn water to slowly bring temperature up. According to the Penn State Extension Office, the link of the straw should be no less than forty seconds (Penn, 2018). Seeing as liquid nitrogen comes into play, careful handling is a must. Thick gloves and forceps are used to protect the skin from freeze burns (Artificial, 2018).
Let’s take a look at the process of artificially inseminating an animal. Starting off with a cow. First the cow or heifer must be in standing heat. A female bovine is found to be in standing heat when she allows the other cattle, wether male or female, to mount her without moving. Once standing heat is substantiated, a specialists takes the wheel. The cow is usually put in a shoot to keep her calm and still for the duration of the process. Next the vulva, or the external part of the vagina, is sterilized. Then the insemination rod which contains the straw of semen is inserted into the vagina very carefully and is guided into the cervix where the sperm is dispensed (Short, 2015).
AI in pigs follows several of the same steps. The sow must be in standing heat and the vulva must be cleaned. From there the process begins to change. The sow reproductive tract is slightly different from that of a bovine. The vaginal tract is very close to the urethra which is where the animal urinates out of. Therefore, the insemination rod must be angled upward in order to avoid the urethra. The rod is then pushed into the cervix and a backwards motion is used to check for resistance. Resistance indicates that the rod is in the cervix. Once this is determined, the semen can be dispensed (Short, 2015).
Artificial insemination in sheep and goats is slightly more complicated. Considering the size and complexity of the reproductive tract of a sheep, the AI procedure must be done surgically. The sheep is put under and held upside down at an angle . Next, a small incision is made to access the cervix and the semen is then inserted. The recovery after the procedure is stressful on the animal, therefore, the success rate in sheep and goats is lower due to spontaneous miscarriages. However, many more species have seen success in AI including dogs, deer, and even lizards (Short, 2015).
Our animal science class at Northern Oklahoma College got to attend Reproductive Enterprise Incorporated where we got to witness an actual semen collection and tour the facilities. We got to see large semen tanks that can hold hundreds of straws and get a full explanation from the employees. In the reproductive building there were internal female reproductive organs on display and a technician went through the process of inseminating a female step by step so that we could get the real world experience. Some of us even had the option to palpate a live cow and ultra sound her calf that was developing inside of her body. It was an incredibly interesting learning experience that demonstrated artificial insemination in real life (REI, personal communication, October 31st, 2018).
Safety of animals has increased in the agricultural industry since the introduction of AI. The stresses of natural mating can range from serious injuries and even diseases. The average mature boar can range from five hundred to six hundred pounds, therefore, if the sow is not structurally sound enough to withstand such weight during mating, it could lead to serious leg injuries which would prohibit the sow from ever producing again (Artificial, 2018). This same principle is found in cattle seeing as bulls can be very large and aggressive. Furthermore, AI eliminates the transfer of diseases. Boars are known for carrying pathogens and bacteria and such harmful organisms can potentially make the sows sterile. AI allows for a more sanitary procedure and reduces risks to both the animal and the producer.
One of the main benefits found in artificial insemination is genetic variation. The sire has the largest genetic impact on the herd because there are typically more males than females in the herd (Favreau, 2018). Artificial insemination allows producers to target specific issues within their own operations as it allows for more specific breeding techniques. A breeder can single out a male and a female and mate them because of their certain characteristics so that they can benefit each other (Artificial, 2018). This also allows for marketing of semen from high quality sires of all species to further spread the impact of quality livestock in the show industry. Siring systems have been used since the early 1900s to market beef cattle for genetic improvement. Due to the lack of shipping and preservation techniques, much of the breeding was done locally (Favreau, 2018).
Fortunately, thanks to improved technology and internet marketing, producers have access to the worlds best animals from which they can obtain semen, inseminate their own females with, and improve their operations quality. This kind of expansion and increased availability has led to major strides in the exhibition of livestock. Popular pieces of livestock in the industry including in cattle, sheep, pigs, and goats can be marketed in catalogs, online, and several other avenues. It has never been easier for a breeder to both sell, market, as well as purchase high quality genetics (Artificial, 2018).
So what kind of career opportunities are available within artificial insemination? An artificial insemination technician will always be necessary. Especially in the swine and dairy industry due to the physical characteristics of the animal as the relate to commercial production and efficiency. An AI technicians duty is to both artificially inseminate animals, but as well give advice to producers on their breeding programs and how to maintain the most successful operation (Learn, 2018).
This career field requires years of training in degrees such as animal science, biology, and others who want to secure the most desirable salary, many go as far as to obtain veterinary science and technician degrees. Other factors that relate to career success in this particular field are success rate and years of experience. The average salary of an AI technician can range from around $30,000 to almost $60,000 and with continued success, customer bases can expand and become a more consistent revenue source (Learn, 2018).
Given the fact that the world population will swell to over 9 billion people by the year 2050, methods such as AI will contribute to increasing both the quality and quantity of our worlds livestock. Being involved in agricultural production, the benefits of artificial insemination are undeniable. The safety of animals is so imperative in order to maintain production success and constant cash flow, but also it contributes to keeping animals happy and comfortable. My very own swine farm would not be what it is today without this advancement. The idea that my animals could be injured without the help of such technology is all too realistic. Perhaps one day I will be able to enhance those intangibles of structural correctness, carcass merit, and balance and have that “perfect” pig in my barn.
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