What is Artificial Insemination?
Artificial insemination (AI) is the process of introducing semen from a donor stallion into a mare when she is in estrus by means other than sexual intercourse to achieve pregnancy. The process has been used in livestock for decades, especially cattle, but more recently the practice has become more utilized in horses. Donor semen can be fresh, chilled, or frozen and is administered through a pipette vaginally by a trained professional, usually a veterinarian. Some horse breed associations, notably thoroughbred breed associations, do not allow AI offspring as part of their registry, and others require a veterinarian perform and certify the procedure. The process has good success; if performed by a trained professional, using viable semen on a fertile mare, the success rate approaches that for natural breeding.
Artificial Insemination Procedure in Horses
AI may be performed at the mare's home site or at a breeding facility. The advantage of a home site is that the mare is more relaxed and less stressed, however, experienced personnel and handling facilities are present at a breeding facility. Semen may be fresh, chilled or frozen. Fresh semen has the highest fertility, and is least expensive, however the mare and stallion must be at the same facility as semen must be used immediately. Chilled semen can be transported, if used within 24 hours, and is viable for another 24 to 48 hours once the mare is inseminated. A tight timeline requires coordination of shipping and performance of the procedure, and ovulation by the mare. Frozen semen is preserved with liquid nitrogen and can be stored for years then transported and used when convenient to the mare's estrus and ovulation cycle. Frozen semen is the most expensive and has the least successful insemination rate.
To ensure that the mare is in estrus, and ready to ovulate, an ultrasound can be performed regularly to monitor when the ovarian follicle reaches 35mm and the mare shows signs of heat cycle. When this occurs, AI with fresh or chilled semen should be performed on the mare every 48 hours until ovulation occurs. Some veterinarians induce ovulation with luteinizing hormone injections, which will reduce the number of AI attempts required until ovulation occurs. Frozen semen is used immediately after ovulation occurs, (within 6 hours), for best results. This requires ultrasounds to be conducted more frequently to “catch” ovulation as it occurs.
- In order to perform AI, the mare is secured in a palpation chute, if available, and her tail is wrapped and moved to the side to avoid contamination and interference.
- The vaginal area is cleaned; soap and detergents are sometimes avoided so as not to remove natural flora present.
- Semen is drawn into an insemination syringe or pipette. To use frozen semen, the straw containing semen is withdrawn from the liquid nitrogen tank and immediately immersed in a water bath to raise it to body temperature and then drawn into an insemination syringe for use. Sterile procedures must be maintained throughout this process.
- A sterile lubricated glove is utilized, and the inseminator puts an arm into the vagina and identifies the cervix and the depression indicating the opening to the uterus. During ovulation, the cervix is more relaxed.
- A gloved finger is placed over the syringe or pipette with semen and is introduced into the vagina and into the depression in the centre of the cervix. The pipette is then introduced, gently so as not to cause any damage, still covered by a finger, into the cervix. When it is about 1 inch into the uterus the plunger is depressed and semen released into the uterus. The arm and pipette are slowly removed.
Efficacy of Artificial Insemination in Horses
Artificial insemination can be as efficient as natural breeding if estrus is followed closely, ultrasound is employed, and an experienced inseminator or veterinarian performs the procedure using controlled procedures. Fresh and chilled semen is associated with better results than frozen semen, however, requires careful coordination and timing or that both animals be present at the same location.
Artificial Insemination Recovery in Horses
The mare should be checked for pregnancy after AI procedure, within 14 to 16 days, so that if she is not impregnated AI can be attempted again at the next ovulation cycle.
Cost of Artificial Insemination in Horses
Cost of AI can include a booking fee of $200 or more, collection fees of approximately $200, shipping fees which vary depending on location and distance, cost of container (which can range from $50 to $200, but may be returned for refund), and the cost of semen, which can range from $200 to several thousand dollars or more depending on the stud. The insemination procedure itself ranges from $200 to $500. The total price of AI typically starts at $1,000 and ranges upward depending on the cost of the donor stud semen.
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Horse Artificial Insemination Considerations
Success of AI varies depending on the quality of semen, whether fresh or frozen semen is used, the fertility of the mare, and several other procedural factors. The process can be expensive and yield no results. However, when ultrasound, appropriate procedures, and verified semen is used, results can be good. Success with older maiden mares is not as good as in broodmares and young horses. Bacterial infection is a risk and sterile procedures will mitigate this. AI also mitigates disease by preventing horses from stress and exposure to disease during traveling and at unfamiliar facilities. Venereal disease is less likely due to the concentration of semen and extenders used in the process.
Artificial Insemination Prevention in Horses
AI is most commonly used because of the impracticality of both horses being colocated for breeding purposes, however, if a mare or stallion is injured preventing natural breeding, AI may be utilized. Preventing injury in breeding animals will therefore eliminate the need to perform AI as a means of circumventing injuries that make natural breeding risky.
AI may also be used where the behavioral or temperament of the horses involved makes natural breeding risky due to the potential for injury to occur during the process. In this case, AI may be a means of preventing injury.