A few weeks ago I went to help a local farmer Artificially Inseminate (A.I), his flock of pedigree charollais sheep. This was an exciting and intriguing opportunity which was fascinating to watch.
I arrived early to the farm which made time for a good chin wag. The sheep were all penned up in two lots awaiting their date with technology. The sheep were split into two groups as one group would be inseminated using fresh semen and one using frozen semen. The farmer explained that A.I allowed him to have a tight lambing period; as hormones are given to the ewes which make them cycle at the same time, so ewes can be inseminated on the same day, resulting in lambs being born pretty much on the same day. A.I allows semen to be purchased from top class tups which may be out of the farmer’s price range to buy the actual animal, with the added bonus of not having the cost of maintaining that animal. Another key advantage of A.I was also pointed out, which is very clever and important when thinking of diseases which could decimate the sheep population; is that A.I allows the use of semen from a now deceased animal.
The breeding company arrived and proceeded to set-up their gear. It didn’t take them long and they were very efficient. I was very surprised to how such a task could be carried out on farm, as I imagined an immaculate, white room, with masses of technology and light. But no, this advanced technology had been brought to the farm and set up in a normal farm shed. It really did amaze me. There were three men that came from the breeding company this day. One was a vet, who would be doing the A.I procedure, one was an assistant who would deal with the semen and the other kept the whole job moving and kept the paper work right. The farmer and his father had the strenuous job of loading the sheep onto the crates and I was in-charge of the flow of sheep.
Now these ‘crates’ used to hold the sheep, fascinated me and I would have loved to of pinched it to do sheep’s feet in. The crate was on wheels and was just a metal rectangular frame with curved straps running through the centre. Then at each end were two foot holders with straps for the bottom (below is a badly draw diagram). The sheep were tipped into the crate so they lay on their backs. The feet were secured and then the crate and sheep could be wheeled into position for the vet. Once in position the rectangle frame could be raised so the backend of the sheep pointed towards the sky. This allows the vet to be in a comfortable, level position to A.I the sheep. The sheep never moved, I was very surprised, so in my eyes and ideal contraption for me to do feet in!
The actual process of A.I in sheep is invasive, so it is not done alike a cow through the natural routes, instead two incisions are made above the sheep’s udder. One incision is for a camera and one for the insemination of the semen. The vet was incredibly quick, the process took under 5minutes, it really was mind-boggling. The vet allowed me to look into the camera at one point, seeing the reproductive organs of the sheep and the straw which contained the semen, once in position the semen is pushed out and that’s the job done. Once the sheep had been inseminated, she was tipped out of the crate, and she would wonder off as if nothing had happened.
I was very impressed with the whole process and it would be something I would look into doing if I had a fair few sheep. Yes there is allot of facts and figures, pros and cons to consider but the set-up on farm and the process I saw was very impressive and efficient. The only negative was the look of sheer disappointment from the ram used to produce the fresh semen, romance was officially dead that day!