Semen Care: Proper Handling = More Pregnancies

Don’t let semen handling be a “forgotten link” in your herd. Below are 12 steps herd owners and managers, herdsmen, inseminators and professional AI technicians can put in to practice to help get more cows pregnant.


  1. Locate all items necessary to thaw semen and perform AI, including tweezers, water bath and thermometer, AI gun, sheaths, scissors, paper towels, plastic sleeves, and lubricant. Work close to the liquid nitrogen tank, preferably in a clean and dry location.
  2. Check the water bath temperature using a thermometer. Most semen packaged in .5-mL or .25-mL straws should be thawed in water 95˚F/35˚C.
  3. Keep an accurate semen inventory including storage location.
  4. Work at or below the frost line in the neck of the tank to minimize the possibility of premature thawing of semen straws. After locating and grasping the desired cane, remove the straw with tweezers. Quickly transfer the straw to the water bath, while gently lowering the cane back into the canister, and the canister back into storage position. When thawing more than 1 straw simultaneously, do not allow straws to touch in the water bath.
  5. Semen should be thawed for a minimum of 45 seconds. Use a watch or clock to monitor the time.
  6. Remove the straw from the water bath and dry thoroughly with a paper towel. Water will kill sperm. Cut the crimped end of the straw at a right angle, keeping the straw covered by paper towels during the process.
  7. As you load the straw into the gun, very quickly check to make sure you have selected the right bull.
  8. Pull the sheath over the gun and secure it with an o-ring or by twisting the sheath on the raised spiral. Be certain the straw is seated squarely in the sheath. Make sure you use sheaths made specifically for your AI gun.
  9. Place the AI gun close to your body to keep it warm. Pull on a sleeve, get a little bit of lubricant, a few paper towels, and quickly make your way to the cow.
  10. Practice good hygiene. Insert your arm into the rectum of the cow without removing manure. Utilize a paper towel to clean the cow’s vulva prior to insertion of the AI gun. Gently insert the AI gun, thread through the cervix, and slowly deposit semen in the body of the uterus. If the cow moves while you are depositing semen, stop and check the location of the end of the AI gun. If necessary, reposition the AI gun and resume semen deposition.
  11. Keep accurate records including 1) date and time of AI, 2) cow, bull, and technician identification, and 3) type of heat signs observed.
  12. Conduct pregnancy examinations prior to 40 days after AI. Evaluate the success of each AI technician.

    Western Dairy News March 2002 Volume 2, No. 2. “Semen Handling: The Forgotten Link in Reproductive Efficiency”; Joseph C. Dalton, Extension Dairy Specialist, University of Idaho, Caldwell, Research Extension Centre