North Carolina Deer & Elk Farmers Association
An association ensuring the future of whitetail deer, elk, and other cervidae farming within our state

Artificial Insemination of Elk & Whitetail Deer

Whitetail Deer
Artificial Insemination Procedure
By Dr. Ray Favero

A method of insemination called cervical insemination is commonly used in whitetail deer. This method of insemination is very similar to the method used to inseminate goats. Similarities exist between the goat and whitetail deer. Mainly both are seasonal breeders and have fairly high fertility.

It varies from operation to operation, but some producers keep the. does in stalls or smaller pens from the time of CIDR removal until artificial insemination. The most important thing is to keep stress to a minimum from the time of CIDR removal until the time of artifiical insemination.

Procedures like worming, vaccinating or weaning should be done before or at CIDR insertion. If the does will be tranquilized for insemination, then feed and water should be removed for at least 12 hours prior to insemination.

The equipment required for insemination are:
-Semen and well filled nitrogen tank
-Thawing thermos with 95 degree water
-Insemination gun for one quarter or one half cc straws
-Scissorsor straw cutting devise
-Speculum with light source, smaller or larger is helpful depending on doe age
-Non-spermicidal lubricant
-Microscope and supplies (optional)
-Slide warmer (optional)
-Paper towels

Myself and many insemination technicians often preform a pre-insemination evaluation of the thawed semen with the microscope prior to insemination. Whitetail semen can be quickly evaluated for gross motility, but differs from other species in that the semen must be warmed to near body temperature before any movement is seen. .This isin contrast to most other species where if the semen is a little cool, the movement is present but just a little slow. Every year several thousand dollars worth of whitetail semen is thrown away because an inexperienced and untrained technician looks at a cold microscope slide and says that the semen is dead. If the slide is warmed the semen will begin moving and is fine. But often this semen is discarded and causes quite a lot of hardship and financial loss.

After the straw is thawed in the 95 degree water, the straw is dried and the end of the straw (non-cotton plug end) is cut. The straw is inserted into a warmed insemination gun and kept warm. The lubricated speculum is gently inserted into the vagina of the doe. A slight upward angle is used as the speculum is started into the females reproductive tract. If difficulty in introduction is encountered, then a smaller speculum should be used. The speculum is advanced up to the cervix. Using the light, the opening of the cervix is visualized. While looking down the speculum, the insemination gun is inserted through the speculum and into the opening of the cervix. Gentle forward pressure along with slight rotation and side to side movement aid in advancing the insemination gun further into the cervix. Sometimes the entire cervix is penetrated, but often the gun is moved through one to two inches of the cervix. Semen is deposited in this area, by depressing the plunger of the insemination gun.

After insemination the tranquilization is reversed or the does is released from the chute. Experienced technicians can inseminate 12 to 15 per hour on tranquilized does or 20 to 25 does in a good drop floor chute.

Preparing for the Artificial Insemination Season
By Dr. Ray Favero, Ph.D.

There is much interest in artificial insemination in the elk industry. Having been involved in artificial insemination in elk for a few years and having performed much research and many inseminations in the cattle industry, I have seen various operations and results. Several factors can influence conception rates. This article is based on my experiences and may not be shared by all practitioners. Over the last few years I have seen conception rates improve on many of the farms that t I visit. I hope that these suggestions will help others obtain optimal conception rates.

The increased use of artificial insemination has been dramatic. This emphasized the fact that elk producers are serious about genetics and will very aggressive bout improving traits rapidly. During the upcoming breeding season, a higher percentage of the total number of elk cows will be bred by artificial insemination than the percentage of beef cows that are bred by artificial insemination.

Before entering into an artificial insemination program, a producer should carefully analyze his breeding program and goals. Artificial insemination is an extremely powerful tool, but it may not be for every producer. Develop goals for your elk herd before entering into a new genetic venture. Semen is available from a wide variety of bulls, and it is important that you identify the bulls that best suit the goals of your herd. Preplanning and careful female selection will result in acceptable conception rates, while no planning and use of inferior quality females will result in unacceptable conception rates. Some of the criteria and concerns in cow selection are as follows:

  • Calm cow; wean calves if necessary
  • Body condition 3 to 3.5 (not fat or thin)
  • Only the best quality cows
  • Older cows (versus 2 and 3-year-olds)
  • Cows that have produced calves

Most producers will have facilities that are adequate for estrous synchronization and artificial insemination. To perform the estrous synchronization and artificial insemination procedures, the cows must be handled three times. If you cows are wild and hard to get into the handling system or your cows are overly nervous in the handling facility, then changes to the handling system are in order. If you (and your cows) are not prepared for the artificial insemination season, then it may be set to wait another year before entering into an artificial insemination program.

In selecting a date to artificially inseminate, it is best to look at the prior calving history of your herd. Granted, everyone would like to have earlier calves, but if cows are artificially inseminated before they begin to naturally cycle, then the conception rates will decrease dramatically. If the majority of your calves are being born in late June and July, then your nutritional and management programs need assistance and it would be wise to improve those before entering into an artificial insemination program. Although it is recommended that the animals which are used to cows at least three years of age that have produced calves, experiments were conducted in the 97 breeding season to investigate artificial insemination of yearling heifers. The results were encouraging and insemination of yearling heifers may be possible. The use of two-year-old cows in an AI program is discouraged because two-year0old cows are often in poor body condition due to trying to grow as well as produce milk and raise calves.

To prepare the elk cows for artificial insemination, they are treated with drugs so that they can all be inseminated at the same time. This procedure is called estrous synchronization. This procedure is basically as follows:

  1. A plastic/rubber type devise is inserted into the vagina of the elk cow.
  2. This remains in the wow for 12 to 14 days and then is removed.
  3. At the time that the device is removed, the cow is given a shot of PMSG.
  4. All cows are artificially inseminated 60 to 66 hours after device removal.
  5. The backup bull is joined with the cows 7 to 10 days after artificial insemination.
  6. Pregnancy can be determined by blood testing or ultrasonography 40 to 42 days after artificial insemination.
  7. The parentage of the calves is confirmed by DNA analysis.
Remember, careful planning and good nutritional programs will result in successful breeding programs.

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