Proper protocol with semen straws key to conception
Cheryl Miller has been teaching semen handling as part of she and husband, Chuck’s 7 Triangle Cattle Company, LLC’s artificial insemination schools for decades. It is, she said, key to conception rates.
Miller said she has thawed thousands of straws of frozen cattle semen but still relies on the methodical steps Chuck first taught her years ago. The results of properly handled straws and maintaining the integrity of the semen is easy to quantify, and all the more important as producers face a range of temperatures and conditions during breeding season.
Semen handling, she said, begins when the shipper arrives at your doorstep. Miller said moving the semen to an on-farm tank immediately is important, especially so the transport company can utilize the call tag on the tank to return the shipper to the company so it can be used to ship to other customers.
Transferring is best done, she said, with two people. One person can hold a canister in the second tank and pull it up to be accessed, placing the canes in the cold canister, and returning it to the closed on-farm tank. If there are no vapors when the shipper is opened, she recommends contacting the company as there may be a temperature problem.
“If you’re ordering semen, pay attention to the day you’re ordering and ask how long it will take so if your delivery dates don’t fall over a holiday or weekend,” she said. “When you get ready to move it to your tank, check the packing slip and the code on the top of the cane and make sure it is correct.”
Keeping notes during breeding is important for records to refer to closer to calving, but it can also identify potential issues that can point to factors other than breeder error. Miller said noting if a cow that was synchronized using CIDRs had pus present on the straw or various other notes to explain breeding success or failures. Weather conditions, who the AI technician doing the breeding is, and other factors can be noted for future reference as well.
The following are best practices for semen handling (for .5 cc straws) according to Miller. The straw should be removed from the tank using tweezers after the handler checks the top of the cane for the code and determines it is the correct straw. The plug in the straw will be on the bottom as it is removed and immediately placed in a prepared thaw unit registering between 95 and 98 degrees. She recommends using a waterproof digital thermometer, rather than relying on the thaw unit lights. Miller removes the straw from the thaw unit using a folded paper towel to protect it, confirms that it is the correct bull, uses a gentle swirling motion to eliminate air space, and then loads it into the sheath and then the gun, which should be kept clean and warm. Miller keeps the paper towel over the end of the gun to protect it and keep it clean and adjusts the plunger to the end of the straw, keeping it in her shirt until it is transferred to the breeder.
Miller said she prefers stainless steel guns for ease of cleaning but warns against using anything other than alcohol after a breeding session.
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