“What did you do today?”
“I had dairy lab and we AI’ed cows!”
“You did what?”
And that is the beginning of an awkward conversation with your mom. We artificially inseminate dairy cows for a variety of reasons. It is a routine, quiet process- not sexual exploitation like some groups would have you believe.
Artificial insemination starts with collection of semen from a bull. Dairy bulls are allowed to mount a teaser cow and ejaculates into an artificial vagina. The semen is extended, which means a substance, usually made from egg yolk or pasteurized, homogenized milk, is added to the semen to increase volume and the longevity of the sperm. An ejaculation that, in live cover circumstances, could breed one cow, can be divided up to breed up to 1,000 cows via artificial insemination. The extended semen is then cooled or frozen and it can be shipped to farms across the country and world. This has allowed bulls with superior genetics to be available to many, many farmers.
Identifying estrus in cows is essential in AI. This can be easy or hard, depending on your cow, but typically cows that are in heat will attempt to mount other cows or allow other cows to mount her. This is called “standing heat” and is the best indication that the cow is ready to be bred. Ovulation usually occurs towards the end of standing heat, approximately 12 hours in, so if a cow is identified as in estrus in the morning, she will be bred that afternoon, and if she is detected in the afternoon, she will be bred the next morning.
The actual process of artificial insemination is quick and painless. The cow will usually be caught in a head gate and the person performing the AI will insert one arm into the rectum. This allows him or her to manipulate the cervix and guide the insemination rod in. The AI’er will then wipe off the vulva to keep it clean and insert the insemination rod, which contains the semen straw, into the vagina, and then to the cervix where the semen is deposited. The cow doesn’t mind the process at all.
After the cow is inseminated, she is watched for signs of estrus 21 days later. If she does not come back into heat, she will be checked for pregnancy! If she comes back into heat, she will be rebred.