Artificial Insemination in Cattle

Meaning, Pros, and Cons of Artificial Insemination in Cattle

Artificial insemination in cattle is a technique by which the semen from a bull, is artificially introduced into the vaginal opening of a cow, with the purpose of conception. This article provides information on this technique and its pros and cons.
Artificial insemination (AI) is a popular, simple and inexpensive treatment of infertility in animals, in which the sperm from the male is collected and introduced artificially, into the reproductive tract of the female for conception. It was in 1780 that the first scientific research in AI of domestic animals, was carried out on dogs. Lazanno Spalbanzani, an Italian scientist, conducted experiments that proved the power of fertilization vested with the spermatozoa and not with the liquid portion of the semen. These studies spearheaded the commercial utilization of this technique for breeding across the globe. Today, AI has emerged as one of the best techniques devised for genetic melioration of farm animals. This is a remarkable method of breeding quality cattle, in the most natural way possible. AI is being carried out in a large number of buffaloes and cows and is extremely useful in countries like India, wherein quality sires have been scarce. Artificial insemination in cattle has taken care of this major obstacle in the path of cattle improvement.

Artificial Insemination Technique
The process of artificial insemination in cattle involves the deposition of semen, in the vagina of the cow, at the most appropriate time for acceptable conception rates. This is the same way conception is achieved after natural mating. However, this technique has been altered due to its low conception rates and high requirement of sperms. As a result, another technique called 'rectovaginal technique' is quite popular today. This technique involves the insertion of a disposable, sterile catheter containing thawed semen into the vagina of the cow. The catheter is then guided into the spiral folds of the cervix into the uterus, with the help of a gloved hand in the rectum. Some part of the semen is deposited inside the uterus, while the rest of it is left in the cervix as the catheter is withdrawn.

Some people recommend deposition of semen in the cervix canal, with no further deposition in the uterus, of previously inseminated cows. This is because there are chances of pregnancy. This rectovaginal technique is quite complex and requires patience and practice to achieve successful insemination. The timing of insemination also plays a crucial role, as there is a time when maximum conception can be expected.

Advantages of Artificial Insemination

Quality Sires: During natural breeding, males deposit more than the theoretically required quantities of semen into the female's reproductive tract for conception. AI method involves dilution of collected semen so as to create hundreds of doses from one ejaculate. Thus, AI makes superior sire semen to be available to hundreds of female cows. Artificial insemination in dairy cattle, leads to sires of inheritance for butter fat and milk production. Prior to AI, only few cows could have the advantage of good bulls.

Decreased Costs and Increased Safety: Bulls are bigger and stronger than cows and generally quite difficult to handle around the farm. Their aggressive nature can make them potential threats on the farm. However, AI eliminates the need to have a bull on the farm, as semen can be easily transported to various geographical areas. They can also be stored for a long period of time, which means the semen from a male can be used even after a bull's natural reproductive life ends. Since maintaining males costs quite a bit, AI decreases the overall costs on the farm.

Reduction in Disease Transmission: The transfer of venereal diseases is quite likely to happen during natural mating. Certain pathogens can be transferred via the semen into the female, during AI as well, however, the screening done after semen collection prohibits this transfer.

Genetic Selection Improvement: Since one male's semen is more than enough to produce hundreds of offspring, the best few males can be selected for breeding. This helps maintain the vigor of the cattle breed. Artificial insemination in beef cattle helps maintain the genetic pool, thereby obtaining the right strain of beef cattle, required for meat production. Bulls of high genetic merit are available with AI.

Despite all the pros, AI does have its share of cons. It requires dexterity, patience, knowledge, experience, as well as specialized equipment. Improper ways of carrying out AI in animal species, such as improper sterilization of equipment, unsanitary conditions, etc. can nullify the efforts taken to obtain conception. The severe climatic conditions prevalent in most parts of India makes transportation and preservation of semen difficult. Moreover, the need for superior germ plasm has reduced the market for bulls.