By Diane Alu
Ok, now that I have your attention, let’s get right down to business. A.I., or artificial insemination, is a wonderful tool for breeders to use to get the quickest genetic results for their herd. By breeding artificially, one can select the best of the breed without the bull, literally, in the backyard.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a 2 day A.I. workshop here in NY sponsored by ABS Global. It was hosted at a large (huge) dairy farm that not only had very nice training facilities, but also some rather unfortunate Holsteins that were to be our guinea-pigs for the hands on part of training. And, standing shoulder to shoulder, arms
buried in you know where, covered with you know what, well, lets just say it was quite the bonding experience, especially for us ladies, of which at least half of the students were.
So we all meet at the farm the first morning, there is fresh coffee and donuts and muffins, we all take seats, some people came as a group, others, like myself, were unsuccessful in finding a girlfriend who thought spending 2 days manipulating a cows reproductive tract was their idea of a good time, sat at a large table with several other ladies.
The workshop was well staffed, with 2 veterinarians, several AI techs, a trainer from ABS and several others who drifted in and out over the 2 days. We went over the slide show (yes, no power point here!) and discussed everything you ever wanted to know about artificial insemination (but were afraid to ask…). Cycling, FSH, luteinizing hormones, how the reproductive tract looked, felt and where we would find everything once we got in there. Semen handling, thawing, straw size, tanks and equipment were just some of the topics as covered for as long as necessary, and questions were encouraged and readily answered. The vets got in on the discussion, and I confess, I was in my glory with a vet there to answer each and any question I could ask! (Question: is there any nutritional benefit to the cow gained by eating the
afterbirth?) Answer: No. Remove if possible,
can be a choking hazard, plus it’s just plain gross.
Next it was off to the office / prep room downstairs, where preserved reproductive tracts were
laid out on a counter top for us to examine and
try to manipulate a breeding gun through, easier
said than done. Friendships begin to form. This
proved harder than it looked! The techs and vets
were there to assist and help us determine if we
were in the correct place with the guns. We messed
around with that until everyone was satisfied they
could maneuver a breeding gun to the correct
location, and / or was completely overcome by
the grossness of handling dead preserved internal
organs from Texas heifers (yes, the reproductive
tracts were imported from Texas, thanks guys!).
Next it was on to a very nice catered lunch
back upstairs for those who still had an appetite.
After lunch we split the group, half going out
to the cow barn, the other half staying inside to
work with a live semen tank, practicing pulling
straws out of the tanks, thawing, cutting and
loading the guns. Different straw sizes and different styles of guns were explained and used, all
the equipment available for complete hands-on
training. Again, every question was discussed,
and we could practice as much as we wanted.
After that, we switched groups, got suited up
and marched out to the barns. These were huge
freestall barns with head gate feed bunks, where
most of the cows roamed freely, eating and relaxing on sand bedded stalls. Our cows were headed
to market for one reason or another, and the
owner agreed to letting us use them for “practice.”
I really felt bad for those cows, being subject
to our inexperienced explorations to their most
private parts, but I suppose there is no better
way to learn but by actually working with live
animals, and we were grateful for the opportunity
to do so. But I still felt bad for the animals, and
did for quite awhile after. That being said, we
sleeved and lubed up, grabbed a gun, dummy
loaded it under a tech’s watchful eye, and proceeded to pick our victim…oh, er, cow. Let me
just say, it was alot harder than any of us thought!
The cows, being Holstein, were huge, (thank
goodness for mini’s!) and many of us had to stand
on tip-toes to reach all that
way in!! The cows were in
headlocks, but no stalls, so
there was a fair amount of
swinging around and tailwhipping going on, not to
mention the fact that all
these cows do is eat and,
you guessed it, poop. Nonstop. It was frustrating, and
when someone somewhere
would finally find the cervix with the breeding gun,
it was as if they had been
queen or king, announcing “I got it” with the vet or
tech standing next to them
beaming. Jealous glances
were shot; we all went back
to work with increased vigor,
determined to be the next
one to say “I got it.” Of
course sometimes we “just got a difficult cow”
and would casually wander over to where the
“good” cow was, the ones where the most success was found. Lines formed. We all wanted
that unspoken but highly coveted satisfaction
of saying, non-chalantly, “yes, I got it” when
asked, “how did you do?” from another student.
At the end of the day, we were tired, frustrated, stinky and covered with manure, determined that after a shower, burning our
clothes and a good nights rest, tomorrow would
be a better day, full of promise and success!
We said our goodbyes for the day, all friends
Girls Gone Wild . . .
2 Days at an all-inclusive Artificial Insemination Workshop
By Diane Alunow, and tried to figure out how to get into
our cars and trucks without turning them
into a barnyard on wheels for the ride home.
When my husband inquired that evening how
my day was, what did you do, I simply replied
“you don’t want to know” and left it at that.
N e x t
r e s t e d ,
s h owe d
a g a i n
w o u l d
i n d e e d
breeders. After exchanging war stories from the
day before over hot coffee and sweets, we went
over any questions and/or concerns, discussed the
reproductive cycle in beef cattle and the various
tools available to synchronize and get the animals
bred in a timely manner. We were given a very
nice workbook the first day of the workshop, and
we went over much of its content in detail. Then
it was time to head back out to the barns. Like
horses at the starting gate, we were all eager to suit
up again and prove to ourselves that yes, we did
have what it took. It was pouring rain. The barns
were not attached. It was a muddy wet walk. We
got to the barn, quickly scoping out the cattle with
the big orange X’s on their hips for the smallest
and possibly easiest one to work with. We loaded
up our guns, sleeved and lubed up, and took our
places. The cows were still really well fed and let
us know in very short order, but determination
and success was the game plan today, and we
heard the “I think I have it” call much more
than the day before. We were allowed as much
time as we wanted to practice, with vets and
techs assisting and encouraging us every step
of the way. They were wonderful, and by lunch
most everyone had reached their goal of not
only finding their way around the reproductive
tract of a live cow, but also being completely
covered in cow s__t for the second day in a row.
After hosing each other off in the milk
house with the pressure washer, we proceeded
to another wonderful catered lunch, everyone
talking with the vets and techs. Each student
was given a full stocked AI toolbox complete
with gun, sleeves, lube, thawing thermos,
straw cutter, etc. to take home with them.
We exchanged e-mail addresses and business cards, promised never to show our
pictures of what we were doing those two
days to anyone, and said our goodbyes.
If you are planning on introducing AI into
your breeding program, I highly recommend
attending one of these fun -filled workshops. It
will be an experience you will not soon forget!
And, don’t get discouraged. Even the best techs
started the same way. The more you do it, the better you will get. At least that’s what they say…..!