Find out about the Advantages of Insemination
The farmer's main objective is to have young animals born regularly. They will be used either for milk or meat production. The quality and quantity of the milk and meat produced is determined in part by the genetic heritage of the animals, inherited from their parents in equal halves.
All milk or meat production, whatever the species, involves an essential reproduction phase resulting in a birth.
The way in which each species reproduces determines the number and frequency of births. To organise the reproduction of the females in his herd the farmer must take several parameters into account.
- The prolificity of the females. This varies depending on the species: generally one calf per birth in cattle, one to two lambs in sheep, two kids in goats and up to 15 piglets per birth in pigs.
- The reproduction rhythm: one birth per year for cows, goats and ewes as opposed to 2 births per year for sows, for a given number of years.
- The age at the first birth: between two and three years for a cow, six months for a sow and about a year for goats and ewes.
To fertilise these animals the farmer can choose between natural mating and animal artificial insemination. If he chooses insemination, the farmer will take the necessary steps to carry out this insemination at the best time and in optimum conditions.
Improving his Livestock Genetically
The influence of genes on animal production is complex because the production characteristics are mostly controlled by a large number of genes. A single gene may have an action on several characteristics and what's more, not everything is hereditary. Depending on the characteristics the share of variability due to genetics can vary by 1% (fertility) to 60% (muscular conformation, size)!
It was by relying on these biological and genetic bases that the idea for genetic improvement as it is now practised came about: to have the females in a herd reproduce with males for which it is known that the genes they transmit influence production favourably.
Genetic improvement is the first stage in the food chain from animal to consumer's plate. By adapting an animal to its environment selection enables the farmer to carry out his business better and to satisfy consumer requirements in terms of quality, safety and price.
For the farmer selection involves replacing some of the females in his herd each year (for reasons of age, illness, accidental death) with better breeding animals. For example in a dairy herd, 25 to 30% of females are replaced each year.
The genetic improvement process, previously empirical, now relies on a scientific approach, which defines objectives and improvement criteria to meet consumer and farmer requirements. In theory, depending on these criteria the farmer should choose his best females and mate them with the best males available (insemination or natural mating). In practice, all the females in a herd take part in production and therefore reproduction. The work of the farmer, with the support of insemination cooperatives, therefore involves choosing the best males to fertilise his females, depending on their respective characteristics, to produce young animals that are better than their parents.
To be effective the same genetic improvement process should be practised in all the herds of the same breed. In this way the entire breed will benefit from genetic progress, cumulative from generation to generation.
In cattle and goats semen can be frozen, which makes it possible to be free from the restrictions of time and space between its production and its use. Freezing has made the organisation of the control of performance on progeny (progeny testing) and semen export easier.
In pigs the insemination technique was developed during the 1970s to 1980s with fertility results being better than those from natural mating. However, it only reached a real boom when it was recognised by the sector as a favoured vector for genetic improvement.
Using Reproduction Equipment of Irreproachable Health Quality
The assessment and distribution of the best males by insemination also guarantees irreproachable health quality and makes it possible to limit the propagation of diseases.
Artificial insemination capitalises on the male’s fantastic potential for the production of spermatozoa (several billion per ejaculate). From the 18th century, and particularly from the start of the 20th century, attempts to perfect the technique were made in many species, to reduce the number of males to be used in order to favour the best of them, to avoid the physical closeness of animals during fertilisation and to limit the propagation of disease in this way.
For example, in France bovine insemination developed after the Second World War, mainly for health reasons. At the time, the organisation of farms forced farmers, often owners of a small number of cows, to use the services of communal bulls. This practice increased the risk of spreading serious diseases. The use of insemination has considerably improved the ease of breeding (no longer any need "to take the cow to the village bull") and the health status of the herd.
Preserving the Genetic Heritage of Domestic Species
As production conditions and farmers' needs evolve, many breeds are no longer suitable for the majority of farms. Insemination is used as a favoured reproduction method and makes it possible to continue to farm these breeds in situ.
With the aim of preserving the genetic heritage of all breeds, the systematic building of stocks of semen or embryos is organised. This approach is now coordinated within the framework of the National Cryobank.