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The stages of AI

From Bull to Straw

Adherence to Health, Safety and Animal Welfare Standards

Whether for semen collection or artificial insemination the operations conducted on animals are relatively complicated. They require very accurate procedures, and technical, biological and anatomical knowledge of the animals with adherence to health, safety and animal welfare standards. 

Collection is the Start of the Entire Chain

The collection of the sperm, the first stage in the artificial insemination chain, almost always takes place in a selection centre on males chosen for their performance. Just as in a stud, the collection of semen is spectacular because of the size of the "donors", but it may be dangerous for the operators given the weight of the bulls, which weigh about 800 kg.

The operation takes place twice a week for each bull and the procedure for each session is almost always the same. In the mounting or collection room - a place of flawless cleanliness to prevent any disease - the donor is led to a teaser bull. This castrated bull is used to excite the bull for several moments during which the donor will "nose" i.e. detect the pheromones of its fellow bull. Then, after two false mounts the stud man will increase the excitement of the donor even more by "shouting" using a code that is comprehensible to the animals, "snuggle up" literally to the animal and place the bull's penis in an artificial vagina (heated to a temperature of 37°). The ejaculate is then collected in tubes. Throughout this sequence the operator must monitor the balance and steadiness of the animal. If there is a fall or the animal is overturned he runs the risk of being crushed.

Cows are not used in the collection rooms; on the one hand because they could not tolerate the sessions of mounting and false mountings with males of such a weight, and on the other hand because the presence of a female could lead to the bull becoming so excited that the stud men could not control it.

Placing in Straws, Quality Control

After collection in the mounting room, the ejaculate (about 7 ml containing 8 to 10 billion spermatozoa) is sent immediately to the technicians who usually work in an adjacent laboratory. The sperm is analysed and examined for general quality. The laboratory assistants establish the number, concentration and motility of the spermatozoa. Then the semen is diluted in a saline solution, possibly containing egg yolk (which will enable the gametes to withstand the cryonics) and fractioned into 500 x 0.22 ml straws. A machine fills the straws, closes them and labels them with a 10-character barcode. After refrigeration the straws are frozen in liquid nitrogen at -196°C and will only be taken out of this state for their implantation into herds. The next day a straw is brought back to room temperature and analysed for a quality control. The straws will be preserved for thirty days in the selection centre carboys. During this period the donor will be monitored and must not develop any diseases. This quarantine is the ultimate guarantee of health safety.

Insemination, an Accurate, Effective Procedure in Complete Safety

Over the years the inseminators’ procedures have been standardised, in particular to guarantee maximum success. Whatever the breed or function of the cows, dairy or suckler, insemination takes place in the same way. First of all the technician will choose the transport carboy containing liquid nitrogen at -196°C and the straw corresponding to the order the farmer has placed. In just thirty seconds he defrosts it and brings it to a temperature of 37°C. Then he places the dose in an insemination "gun". The tool has a tube, protected by a disposable sheath, about 45 cm long and 5 mm in diameter. Then the inseminator will insert an arm into the cow's rectum to empty it and, through the fine membrane, take hold of the cervix, an area of circular cartilage measuring about two centimetres. Then he introduces the tube into the vagina until it enters about 7 cm into the uterus, and presses the gun piston to deposit the dose. This location in the uterus avoids a 10-hour "journey" for the spermatozoa to reach the ovule. It therefore increases the chances of success for the operation. Throughout the insemination the technician will ensure that the cow is restrained as well as possible to avoid any sudden movements, which could cause an injury to the genital area of the animal or to the operator.

Our Professions in Videos

Olivier Dominicy, Inseminator

Traceability of Bovine Semen

France is Setting an Example

traçabilité des semences bovines

  • Since 2004 the French bovine semen collection centres (CCS in French) have put in place a system of identification and traceability for semen straws using barcodes.

A dedicated laboratory to guarantee the health status of stud animals

transfert embryonnaire

In particular, the Laboratoire National de Contrôle des Reproducteurs (LNCR - National Laboratory for the Control of Stud Animals) specialises in and works with animals of high genetic value, which are used in semen collection centres, or in embryo transfer centres, for cattle, pig, sheep and goat species. It uses the most effective, modern techniques in its technical units: andrology, cell and molecular biology, virology, bacteriology, sero-immunology and hormonology