Artificial insemination, or AI, has been a topic of conversation within the dairy industry for years, both by farmers as well as those who often don’t understand the practice.

My family has been in the dairy industry for over 75 years, and throughout most of those years we have utilized artificial insemination practices. 

So what is AI? Artificial insemination is the practice of using frozen straws of bull semen. The semen is collected from bulls at facilities across the globe where they process it into individual straws that will be frozen in nitrogen and made available for sale. Then, the purchasing farmer thaws the semen and inserts it into the uterine cavity of the cow.

So let me take a second to walk you through all the reasons that we utilize the practice on our farm.

1) More background information and a wider selection: When we are searching for bulls to use for artificial insemination, we get a catalog full of options. Each bull has a picture or two, typically a picture of his mother or an offspring, and information with detailed charts regarding various traits. Some of these traits will include milk production, milk components, such as percentage of protein or butterfat in milk, and body confirmation. This allows for us to select better traits and genetics for our future generations of cows. Even better, by using this technology, we can draw from a global collection of bulls to pick from instead of just having to find a bull within our local facility.

2) More time to recover in between pregnancies: All animals have a natural desire and ability to reproduce. After a cow has her first calf, she will come back into her first “heat” (menstrual cycle) typically within 20 to 30 days after having her calf. We will wait to artificially inseminate her 60 to 90 days after she gives birth to ensure her body has had time to recover from calving and she has returned to good health. If cows were running with bulls, they would most likely be bred in that first or second heat. The AI allows us to ensure the cows are in good shape to attempt to rebreed.

3) SAFETY: We have had a couple bulls throughout our time on the dairy. They are 2,000-pound creatures full of testosterone and very territorial. For the sake of the farmers, employees and even cows, it can definitely be a scary idea to have bulls on a farm.

So while artificial insemination can sound a bit unusual, it’s a technology that has allowed us incredible advancements and improvements within our herds and also helps to provide safe environments for everyone.

It’s a technology available to us as farmers but is also used in so many other industries like plants, pets and even humans. AI is just one way we’re able to keep our cattle and our workers safe and healthy.