A.I. Has Rich History

Part 2:

10greatestbeefinnovations

This beef innovation has a special interest to me and my family, as we are very involved in A.I.ing our herd. Also, my husband’s profession is helping ranchers make good genetic decisions for their herds and A.I.ing thousands of cows each year.

To read the full article, click here.

Artificial Insemination Has Rich History
After more than 300-years, artificial insemination is staple of today’s beef industry.
By J.T. Smith

Artificial insemination always has been aimed at speeding up the rate of genetic improvement. AI may be more effective today than ever – even though it goes back many years.

There is some interesting history here! How innovative for someone in 1322 A.D. to understand how he could improve the genetics of his livestock.

Some accounts claim an Arab chief used AI as early as 1322 A.D. to mate his prized mare with a stallion owned by an enemy. (In other words, he snuck over and stole the stud’s semen).

In 1677, a scientist named Leeuwenhoek saw sperm through a newly discovered microscope. By 1780, Spallanzani in Italy found a dog could be impregnated with the cellular portion of semen. He also found that sperm could be inactivated by cooling and reactivated later.

A Dane researcher named Sorenson established the first AI cooperative in Denmark in 1933. E.J. Perry, a New Jersey dairyman, was in Denmark at that time, and he returned with a Dane (Larson) to establish the first AI co-op in the U.S. in 1937.

That marked the beginning of the com­mercial AI era in the U.S. as seven AI cooperatives had been established by 1939.

This makes me think of the differences in cattle from 1939 to today.


Cattle in 1939 (source) versus cattle today (source) – phenotypically, you notice the difference in height, but genetics have improved so much.

The commercialization of AI in the cattle industry developed rapidly but depended on three big discoveries:

  • development of semen extenders that protected sperm cells against temperature shock and allowed cold storage
  • that bull semen could be extended to breed large numbers of cows from each ejaculate
  • methods for frozen storage of bull spermatozoa

Now seeing payoff (Vinson and Halfmann make some great points, so I’ll just let you read their thoughts)

Despite so many years of AI, Lanny Vinson of Vinson Ranches, Ovalo, Texas, says the technology is just now showing its true ability to dramatically improve cattle herds and the overall beef industry.

"I think there’s probably been more progress made in the last 10 or 15 years with AI than everything that went before then," he reflects.

The veteran with both AI and embryo transplants says in the ’70s and ’80s, there’s no doubt some advances in beef were made, but such readily available technology and rapid adoption may have outpaced the knowledge of the industry back then. "There’s no doubt in the 1970s — and 1980s, too — some inferior bulls were propagated just because we had the technology," Vinson says. "So the AI technology was there, but a lot of producers were using it without good information on the bulls."

But in recent years, that all has changed with vast information on bulls.

"Because of data on bulls today, we can use DNA markers to make AI a much more valuable tool now," Vinson notes.

The result of using such genetics is uniformity, productivity and excellence — where one highly selected sire can be mated with thousands of females.

Glen Halfmann of Halfmann Red Angus at Miles, Texas, agrees with Vinson that AI is just now hitting its stride in the beef industry. "AI is even more important now than ever since we’re making so much genetic progress so fast," Halfmann says.

He says AI fits with expected progeny differences, marbling quality of beef, maternal traits and so many other important characteristics.

The Red Angus breed also is using data on bulls for AI programs in its maintenance of energy genetics. "That’s real important today when you consider feed costs for a cow," Halfmann assures.

In addition, AI has been tweaked to be far more efficient and less time-consuming. Through using AI synchronization nowadays, Halfmann can artificially inseminate 50 females the same day, where in the past, without AI synchronization, the breeding would have been spread over many days.

"I’d say AI is definitely more important now than ever," Halfmann says.

Vinson adds that with the enormous amount of data on animals today, both his AI and embryo transplant work benefit.

"Today, if a producer is not using AI with all the data we have available — he is really behind," Vinson concludes.

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