Searching for Semen

Here’s a slide of bull sperm, as seen through a microscope.

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? 

Bulls being bulls.

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. 

Sienna gets her first hormone shot at the vet clinic to put her into heat.

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.

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