Dairy cows sure are good businesswomen- they’ve managed to increase production by 60% over fifty years. How did they do it? With artificial insemination! Artificial insemination, known as AI, is the process of manually impregnating a female with semen from a male of your choice. Producers can purchase semen from many different companies. Animals are inseminated with a special insemination gun or catheter, which is inserted into the vagina. Many mammals can be artificially inseminated including sheep, cattle, horses, pigs, and even humans. Today AI is used for most livestock conception.
Why would anybody want to do this? With AI you can improve the genetics of your herd without purchasing and housing expensive sires. Dairy Herd Improvement records are used throughout Canada to identify superior animals. By utilizing these animals for breeding desirable traits such as increased milk production, robust udders, and a more uniform body structure can be obtained. In 1950 the average dairy cow produced about 19 litres of milk per day. Today the average dairy cow produces 32 litres of milk each day.
So do people actually use AI? According to Mike Southwood, General Manager of Alberta Milk, the 1970s saw a great expansion in the use of artificial insemination. By the early 1980s AI was mainstream. This turn to AI can be attributed to all of the advantages that it can offer producers. Alberta dairy producers Johan and Jannekka DeGroot claim that, “AI allows us to monitor our herd more effectively. We can inseminate on specific days so that their calving cycles are more closely synchronized”. They also maintain that it has helped to make their business more successful.
Is there a downside to artificial insemination? The DeGroot’s mentioned that the procedures can be somewhat time consuming and there is also the cost of semen to consider. Over time, if traits are singled out and constantly selected, the result can be a decrease in the quality of form and function. An example of single trait selection is the selection of large breast meat size in the turkey industry. According to Valerie Carney, a poultry specialist with Alberta Agriculture, the breast meat is the most desirable muscle because it can be used to make further processed products. Overdeveloped breast muscles are one of the reasons why turkeys can no longer reproduce naturally and are now entirely dependent on artificial insemination.
by Morgan Hordal, Piage Swinston, Rebecca Jackson, Warren George, Jeremiah Bryska and Nicole De Jong