Lately it seems that many people are talking about challenges they are experiencing with artificial insemination (AI) of their mini Jersey cows and heifers. This is a serious issue for Miniature Jersey cow owners since most owners have only one or two animals and do not want, nor have the facilities to keep a bull. So, we thought we might offer some tips to help you with your AI program.
Since you have to have calves to have fresh milk, it’s critically important that you have a plan for keeping your cow calving regularly, hopefully annually. It is true that you can milk a cow for longer than a year if she is fit enough, but we recommend that you do not get in the habit of doing so as it puts great strain on the cow. Plus, the calves you receive have considerable value themselves.
First off, unless you plan to take an AI class and do the insemination yourself, you have to find a competent AI tech. AI techs can be found through your veterinarian, your local agricultural extension office, or a bull semen collection facility (there are many of these throughout the country). We were fortunate enough to have a quality bull collection facility, Champion Genetics, just 2 hours from our farm. We purchased frozen semen on the bulls we liked and had it shipped directly to Champion where it was stored until we needed it. When a cow needed to be bred, we simply took her to Champion and let them perform the service. It was easy and effective.
Secondly, heat detection is important. A cow should ideally be inseminated at 12 hours after the onset of standing heat, but can often become pregnant if insemination occurs as late as 24 hours after onset of heat. Standing heat is easily detected if you have more than one cow, but if you have only one it can be more difficult. For this reason, you may want to find a professional collection facility to perform your AI as they can put your cow with others to make heat detection much more precise. Heat can also be induced, with the AI tech estimating the onset of standing heat – this can be an effective method.
Thirdly, the frozen semen itself needs to be of good quality. Frozen semen is fragile and must be carefully handled. When we sell semen it ships directly from the collection facility to wherever the purchaser is going to store it for future use. This reduces the chance of degradation caused by heating and cooling during multiple transfers in and out of liquid nitrogen tanks. Plus, we sell only semen that is embryo transfer quality, the highest quality rating.
Fourth, some cows simply will not breed using AI. It’s rare, but it does happen, most often with older cows. To help maintain your cow’s ability to conceive, we recommend that you begin breeding her as a relatively young heifer around 18 months of age, and that she be bred each year thereafter. We never try to AI a cow on the first heat after calving, the probability of success is just too low; in fact, we usually wait until the 3rd heat cycle post-partum to maximize the probability of success.
Lastly, about sexed semen. Sexed semen straws usually consist of 2.1 million sperm cells while regular frozen semen has 12-15 million sperm cells. The lower sperm count, combined with the fragile nature of sexed semen, make it much more difficult to use and makes accurate heat detection critical. For these reasons plus the higher cost, we offer sexed semen straws in very limited quantities and only to those who have already achieved success in their AI program using standard straws.
If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask – we want you to be successful with your AI program.