By Tinotenda Madhebha
In a bid to improve the national herd and genetic quality of livestock, especially cattle, the government is leveraging on technology and innovation. Artificial insemination is one of the various interventions that the government has adopted to ramp up production in the livestock sub-sector as enshrined in the Livestock Recovery and Growth Plan.
The Livestock Recovery and Growth Plan, which seeks to address challenges constraining livestock production, productivity, and profitability, is aimed at attaining a US$2 billion livestock economy by the year 2025. Last year, the government launched an artificial insemination programme targeting small-holder farmers to improve their herd quality.
Currently, the country has two bull semen centers in Mazowe and Chinhoyi University of Technology. However, preparations to establish another one at Matopo Research Institute are at an advance stage.
Artificial insemination is the process of collecting sperm cells from a male animal and manually depositing them into the reproductive tract of a female. In Zimbabwe, this process is usually used mostly in dairy cattle.
There are several advantages by artificial insemination over natural mating or servicing. There is no need of maintenance of breeding bull for a herd; hence the cost of maintenance of breeding bull is saved. Artificial insemination prevents the spread of diseases and sterility due to genital diseases, among them contagious abortion and vibriosis.
During natural breeding, a male will deposit much more semen than is theoretically needed to produce a pregnancy. In addition, natural breeding is physically stressful. Obviously, these factors limit the number of natural mating a male can make. However, collected semen can be diluted and extended to create hundreds of doses from a single ejaculate. Also, semen can be easily transported; allowing multiple females in different locations to be inseminated simultaneously, and semen can be stored for long periods of time, meaning that males can produce offspring long after their natural reproductive lives end.
Because artificial insemination allows males to produce more offspring, fewer males are needed. Therefore, one can choose only the few best males for use as parents, increasing the selection intensity.
Artificial insemination has some potential drawbacks, however, that must be considered. First, it can be more laborious. Male animals instinctively detect the females that are in the correct status for conception. With artificial insemination the detection work falls on the responsibility of the farmer. Poor detection results in decreased rates of fertility. Also, increasing the number of offspring per male has selective advantages only if the best males can be accurately determined. Otherwise, this process only decreases the genetic variability in a population. Increasing the number of offspring per male always reduces the gene pool. The benefits of more intense selection must be balanced against the negative effects of decreased variation.
Artificial insemination allows genetic banking as semen collected can be taken to other areas for insemination. The procedure makes it possible to mate two animals with great differences in size without injury to either of the animals. If it is done properly, it helps in maintaining accurate breeding and cawing records. It increases the rate of conception.
However, artificial insemination requires well-trained operations and special equipment, which means it requires knowledge of the structure and function of reproduction on the part of operator. The improper cleaning of instruments and sanitary conditions may lead to lower fertility. The procedure requires more time than natural services. If the bull is not properly tested, the chances of spreading genital diseases is increased.
During the preparation stage, the farmer should make sure all animals which are to be inseminated are not pregnant. This is done to avoid abortions if the artificial insemination technician is to use heat inducing drugs. The animals should be on heat so heat detection should be carried out. The farm should have a proper cattle race for good handling of animals and safety to the technician during the whole process.
Heat detection techniques
The following are some of the signs that the animal is on heat.
- The animal will be excited condition. The animal will be in restlessness and nervousness.
- The animal usually reduces the intake of feed.
- The animals which are in heat will lick and smell other.
- The animals will try to mount other animals.
- The animals usually standstill when another animal try to mount. This period is known as standing heat. It usually extends between 14-16 hours.
- Frequent urination will be observed.
- Clear mucous discharge will be seen from the vulva.
- Swelling of the valva.
- The tail will be in a raised position.
Success in insemination timing is dependent on a good heat detection programme. However, this might be difficult in large herds. A successful heat detection programme and subsequent good timing of insemination can pay dividends in increasing reproductive efficiency. For the whole artificial insemination process to be successful, it depends on pregnancy diagnosis, semen collection, handling, storage and insemination.
There is no doubt that that this initiative is a step in the right direction to achieve National Development Strategy 1 of increasing the national herd and subsequently achieving national food and nutrition security.
Tinotenda L Mudhebha is an animal scientist.
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