Alas, this is not a search for “sea men” but bull sperm. I choose to have a little fun with this topic, because… How can you not when using the word semen over and over?
I began my search for semen a couple weeks back, because I decided it was time to try AI. Artificial intelligence it is not. I’m talking about artificial insemination. Some of my readers may be well-versed in this scientific approach to breeding bovines. However, when I started out on this journey, I was not. In fact, I really had no clue what to do or where to start. I suppose I could have bought a “Semen for Dummies” book but, instead, did a Google search for: “where to buy dairy cow AI straws.”
The first place I ran across was called STGen. I perused STGen’s website and began to feel in over my head. It looked as though I had found a location that sold bull semen. “Land ho!” However, I had no idea how to purchase it from the enigma that was the STGen website. All I saw was breeds of bulls, their names, and a bunch of numbers that I didn’t understand. “Grazing merit”? “PTI”? “UDC”? Huh? I left my semen acronym dictionary in my “should never, ever need” folder.
Luckily, STGen offers a handy-dandy chat option, so I clicked on that. The chat assistant cheerily asked how she could help. Can you imagine this conversation? It basically went something like this: “How can I purchase semen from your website?” (Just like all the girls do.) “Catie” informed me that I could not purchase semen directly from STGen’s website, but she would be happy to put the order in for me if I would specify what I was looking for. I told her I would need a little help on that end, too, since this was my first time shopping for semen. I should have asked myself before beginning this journey: “What should I look for in quality semen?”
I told Catie that I wanted to breed my Jersey milk cow with some gender-select, Guernsey bull AI straws, and cheaper was better as far as I was concerned. (Using gender-select semen means you have a 96% chance of getting a female calf.) I didn’t end up buying semen from Catie, because STGen had a 10 unit purchase minimum. Well, I didn’t need that much semen. However, Catie helped me figure some things out that I was unaware of. The most important being that I was not equipped for semen storage. I naively thought I could put it in my freezer. Go ahead and laugh. (I told you I had no clue what I was doing.) For those of you who, like me, don’t know where semen is supposed to be stored, I’ll tell you: a semen tank. Duh. I should’ve known that, right? Where else would you keep your semen? My education from this chat also included learning that an AI straw was also called a “unit” and that 10 units make up a “cane.”
After this chat, I did some more research and learned another very important thing: Administering the semen was beyond my skill set. The person who does this is called a “semen technician.” I suppose that is a more glamorous term than I would use for this same job, especially since I’ve seen how cows get palpated and realize the “technician” would have a similar experience. I decided to call my vet clinic, hoping maybe “semen technician” was also on the resume of my veterinarian. Thankfully, it was.
I was further educated from the vet office about this whole AI business. I was relieved to find out that when my vet does AI, he gives the cow shots to bring her into heat. That ensures the timing is right. Previously, I thought I was going to have to catch my cow in her natural cycle, which only lasts about 18 hours. This is as tricky as it sounds. My plan was to put a heat detector sticker on her and wait until it turned red.* Because, unlike a bull, I cannot tell when my cow is in heat purely from her scent.
Back to the semen hunt… I called a salesperson from another semen-selling website. They were out of gender-select Guernsey sperm. Don’t you hate when you run out of that? Thus, I was perplexed about what to do next.
I went to the American Guernsey Association website for help and struck gold. (If you know anything about Guernsey’s, you will understand that pun.) The website had a link to Guernsey Gold Sires. I was able to buy some gender-select, Guernsey semen on sale. (No, I’m not joking.) Not only that, but GGS doesn’t charge the $75 shipping fee that it usually costs to ship semen. Semen, I learned, has to be stored in liquid nitrogen. Lucky for me, my vet has a semen tank, and so I didn’t have to buy one off of Amazon. (Yes, they sell semen tanks. What don’t they sell? Well, actually, they don’t sell semen. At least, I don’t think they do.)
You might wonder why I wanted Guernsey semen when my milk cow is a Jersey. I will explain in my next post when I continue this saga with the sequel: “Intro to Artificial Insemination.” For now, I think I’ve reached my limit on using the word “semen.”
*Heat detector stickers are put on a cow so that when herd mates mount the cow, the sticker gets scratched and turns red. In theory, the red sticker shows that your cow is in heat.