Dairy farmers complain of low conception rates once their animals have been artificially inseminated; African Farming looks at the factors
They lament that even with the exorbitant costs – some in the range of several thousands - their dairy cows fail to conceive and give them the much-needed calves. With calving comes another lactation cycle where farmers expect to reap dividends from milk sales.
“It is discouraging when cows fail to conceive when served through artificial insemination (AI) considering the cost of semen these days. Many local farmers are now resulting to local bulls to avoid the costs and high failure rates”, said James Kinyua, a dairy farmer in Othaya in Central Kenya.
Currently, locally sourced semen from the Central Artificial Insemination Station (CAIS) at Kabete, at the outskirts of Nairobi, retails at Ksh 600 ($8) while imported semen sells from Ksh 1,000 ($13) upwards.
Sexed semen - one with a higher chance of getting the sex of calf the farm is interested in - sells expensively from Ksh 6,000 ($78) to Ksh 11,000($146) from some service providers.
But experts and AI service providers assert that the quality of semen sold in the country is good. It is other factors - mainly farms, which affect conception rates.
“The genetic make-up of a cow only contributes 40 per cent while management contributes over 60 per cent to the overall performance of a dairy cow”, said Mr. Simon Mutoru, a private service provider trained in Animal health and AI and also accredited by the Kenya Dairy Board (KDB).
According to Mutoru, good semen should be disease free, should have no impurities and should have the right genetic material intended for the farmers.
Conception rates are mainly influenced by health of the cow on heat, feeding and general livestock management, semen handling and insemination and the bull fertility.
While most of the semen sold to farmers in the country meets the standards, its handling and storage may affect the conception rates of the animals served.
“Semen is stored at a temperature of minus 197 degree Celsius. Any increase in temperature affects the overall semen effectiveness, affects the thawed sperms and may finally kill them”, noted Mutoru, a veterinary professional working in Nyandarua, Laikipia and parts of Nyeri district.
It is the cow’s overall management that determines the conception rates, according to Mutoru.
“Farmers should ensure that their animals are well nourished with minerals salts and vitamins to boost conception. At the same time, breeding diseases like trichomoniasis and brucellosis should be treated on time to reduce damage of the cow’s reproductive system”.
Research conducted in by Messr. Mbai, Munyua and colleagues at the University of Nairobi indicates that disease attack on the testes of young unmated rams and mature breeding rams affected semen quality.
According to the researchers, farmers incurred huge losses through the loss of breeding rams.
Similarly, conception rates in ewes were affected by the reduced libido of the rams as well as semen quality.
In cattle, local bulls used in natural mating have been blamed for the transmission of brucellosis- a breeding disease that leads of late pregnancy abortions in cattle.
Entry of quacks into the AI sub-sector has also compromised conception rates due to poor insemination skills.
Currently, the University of Nairobi ’s College of Veterinary Sciences, AHITI Kabete, AHITI Ndoba and the American Breeders Service are among the few institutions accredited by the government to offer training on artificial insemination.
Yet, other low-level colleges and institutes have been advertising in the media calling on dairy farmers to seek training in offering AI services.
“Many of these trained farmers are unable to deliver the semen to the uterus properly compromising conception. Others do not store the semen to the required standards affecting sperms survival”, observed Mutoru.
Many of these farmers have commercialized these skills even though they have little experience.
He adds that to perfect the skill of insemination, one requires thorough training, continuous practice with different type and breeds of cows - and patience.
“Different animals have varying needs when it comes with artificial insemination. They also have reproductive systems that vary in size and this takes time to understand and appreciate”.
Meanwhile scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in collaboration with the Clinical Studies Department of the University of Nairobi (UON) have recently succeeded in breeding Kenya’s first test-tube calf using a technique called in vitro embryo production (IVEP).
IVEP makes it possible to rapidly multiply and breed genetically superior cattle within a short generation interval.
With livestock the fastest growing sub-sector in the world, as increasing trends of 114 per cent in demand for meat and 133 per cent for milk attest, it is essential to double livestock production in the developing world by 2020.
The scientists say that IVEP is clearly one of the most efficient ways to meeting the rising demand for livestock. They also argue that doubling livestock production through traditional breeding techniques increases pressure on natural resources—water, land and biodiversity.
With IVEP requiring only laboratory equipment in the production process the method comes hardy for livestock breeders.
The scientists have also worked hard to match genotypes - the genes with the environment. Such important genotypes like adaptation, tolerance for disease and to new environments as well as alignment to the markets development are well catered for when using IVEP.
However, the scientists argue that IVEP does not— and should not — completely replace traditional reproductive technologies such as conventional embryo transfer (ET) and artificial insemination.
Each of these techniques has its place, and each of them utilizes tissues, embryos and semen for improvement and reconstruction of cattle breeds.
The difference is that while the traditional ET techniques involve more animals and are wholly done in the field, IVEP is undertaken in the lab and involves fewer surrogate animals in the field. IVEP eliminates the tedious steps of synchronizing donor cows.
by Mwangi Mumero