The use of fresh semen has grown in popularity over the last number of years amongst dairy farmers and artificial insemination (AI) service providers.

In New Zealand, fresh semen is commonly used – even more so than frozen semen – due to its convenience and speed of use.

The fresh semen programme, which is run by Progressive Genetics and Munster Bovine, has grown in popularity over the last few years in Ireland.

This year’s fresh semen programme began on April 14, and is due to finish around June 2.

”Last year over 35,000 fresh straws were used, which was a 12% increase in the use of fresh semen on farms, with a further increase of around 10% expected this year,” according to Shane Leane from Progressive Genetics.

Speaking about the benefits of fresh semen, Shane said: “The advantage of fresh semen is that you can produce more straws for the highest genetic-merit sires to meet the peak seasonal demand, on one hand, while using fresh semen simplifies the on-farm insemination process.”

What’s involved?

Speaking to Agriland about what’s involved in harvesting fresh semen, Shane stated: “Last year the semen was collected from the chosen bulls each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

”This year we are adding a fourth collection on Friday evening, meaning semen will be available for collection on Saturday morning.

“Each collection will be taken from three bulls, meaning each day there will be three different bulls available.

”The semen is transported to the National Cattle Breeding Federation (NCBC) lab in Naas, Co. Kildare, after being collected at the stud farm in Enfield, Co. Meath,” he continued.

”Here, the semen must pass rigid quarantine control-tests before being diluted, transferred into straws, packaged and then distributed to AI technicians across the country.”

Can any bull be used?

When asked if any bull could be used for the fresh programme, Shane said: ”There are a number of factors used to select the bulls used in the programme.

“The bulls are chosen on the basis of what customers are looking for; genomic assessments from the most relevant genomic data on a bull’s economic breeding index (EBI); their semen production capacity; their semen quality over time; and field fertility.”

This years team

The bulls available for the Progressive Genetics 2021 fresh semen programme include:

  • Kilfeacle Pivotal (FR4728);
  • Doonmanagh Seville (FR4547);
  • Ballygowen Albert (FR4513);
  • Stonepark Sergi SRM (FR5515);
  • Rathlannon Esmonde SRM (FR5530);
  • Highmount Stark (FR5803);
  • Ballingear Suzuki (FR5884);
  • Foxview Bond (FR4582);
  • Deansgrove Sadio SRM (FR7014).

“This year’s bulls have an average economic breeding index (EBI) of €294, with a sub-index average of €122 for fertility and €111 for milk,” Shane added.

”This means that for a herd with an average EBI value of €123, using the bulls available in the fresh programme will mean a predicted EBI value of €209 for the offspring.”

What are the advantages / disadvantages?

Speaking about some of the advantages and disadvantages of the fresh programme, Shane stated: ”The benefits are really with maximising output, and having the availability of semen from the top EBI bulls to meet customer requirements during peak demand.

“The advantage of fresh semen for the AI technicians is that there is no thawing of the straws necessary, which helps to simplify and speed up the process on the farm.

”The straws are stored at room temperature, so liquid nitrogen is not required. Another advantage is that the AI technician will have access to scarce high genetic-merit bulls for their customers.

”The top genetic-merit sires are often young bulls, due to the use of genomics,” he added.

”However, these bulls do not have the capacity to produce large quantities of semen in advance of the breeding season, so by employing fresh semen technology, we can make these bulls available to more farmers during the spring – compared to what would be possible with frozen semen.

”The only disadvantage of fresh [semen] is that the sperm only survive for a finite amount of time, and we start to see a decrease in fertility after three days. Therefore, we recommend straws are used within this timeframe,” he concluded.