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NAAB Symposium:

Challenges to AI Companies in
Producing Gender-sorted Semen

by Kasey Brown, associate editor, Angus Journal®


OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (June 12, 2013) — Many challenges exist to producing gender-selected semen for use in the beef industry. For starters, the dairy industry controls more of the artificial insemination (AI) industry than the beef industry does, Willie Altenburg, Genex Cooperative, told attendees of the National Association of Animal Breeders (NAAB) Symposium June 12. The symposium was hosted in conjunction with the Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) 45th Annual Research Symposium and Convention in Oklahoma City June 12-15.


Willie Altenburg
Willie Altenburg

The dairy industry annually produces about 23 million units of semen commercially and custom-collects about 2.7 million units of semen for domestic AI purposes. Altenburg estimated that 10% of that is gender-selected semen. He noted that there are about 9 million dairy cows and 4½ million dairy heifers in the United States, so that equates to about a unit and a half of semen per female.


Comparatively, the domestic beef industry produces about 1½ million commercial units and custom-collects about 2.8 million units. This means that about 3 million units of semen are collected for use on 30 million beef cows and 4½-5 million heifers.


Another 16½ million units of dairy semen are exported, with a large percentage going to the European Union, which requires bulls to be negative for infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR). It’s routine to vaccinate beef cattle for IBR, Altenburg says. That’s problematic because vaccinated beef bulls cannot stand in the same stud as dairy bulls being collected for export to the EU, nor can their semen be sorted with the same machines as semen sorted to go to the EU.


High-demand bulls create another challenge, said Altenburg, noting there are 25-40 beef bulls for which all the semen produced is sold. Gender-sorting the semen would lessen the volume of semen available, which doesn’t make sense when the studs can sell it all for conventional purposes. It would be far too costly to slow down to sort the semen, he explained. “The semen price would be astronomical.”


The dairy industry most often sorts for females, discarding the remainder of the collection. The beef industry selects for both. Fortunately, he mentioned, beef semen is sorted by primary and secondary sorts, which means that the gender-selected semen that wasn’t the initial goal can be used and priced differentially.


Altenburg says sexing technology is expensive, and the price is charged for producing the sorted semen, not by how much is ultimately sold. Demand must be solid to justify the cost of sorting semen.


Breed differences also play a role. Altenburg gave examples that the Angus and Simmental breeds are sorted for both genders; while Herefords are generally sorted for females and Charolais are sorted for males. These single-gender-selection breeds have no advantage of the secondary sort.


He mentioned a few geographical trends in demand. There is higher demand for female-sorted semen east of the Mississippi River for show heifers and other females. There is more demand for bulls west of the Mississippi, where bull prices tend to be higher.

Finally, he noted, seedstock producers are more likely to take the risk of using gender-selected semen, but commercial producers would be more apt to use it if cost can decrease and result consistency can be improved.


Return to the Newsroom for a link to the PowerPoint that accompanied this presentation, as well as audio to listen to the presentation itself.


Editor’s Note: This summary was written under contract or by staff of Angus Productions Inc. (API). Through an agreement with the Beef Improvement Federation, we are encouraging reprinting of the articles to those who will adhere to the reprint guidelines available on this site. Please review those guidelines or contact Shauna Rose Hermel, editor, at 816-383-5270. PowerPoints are posted with permission of the presenter and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the express permission of the presenter.

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Headquartered in Saint Joseph, Mo., API publishes the Angus Journal, the Angus Beef Bulletin, the Angus Beef Bulletin EXTRA, and the Angus Journal Daily, as well as providing online coverage of events and topics pertinent to cattlemen through the Angus Journal Virtual Library.  

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