For the Love of Goats
If you’ve ever wanted to add some genetics to your herd, but the cost of a live animal was out of your price range, artificial insemination is a great way to reach the same goal at a fraction of the price.
In today’s episode we are talking to Dr. Jamie Stewart, Assistant Professor in Production Management Medicine at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. We are answering all of the basic questions about artificial insemination, often called AI for short.
How do you artificially inseminate a goat? There are actually three different types of AI, and Dr. Stewart discusses how each one is done, as well as the chances of success of each method and how much it costs. She also talks about some money-saving tips, such as splitting straws and renting space in a semen tank.
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This video was recorded in our Goats 365 meeting after the podcast aired and one of our members had additional questions about what breeders need to do when considering AI or getting ready to do it.
For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.
Deborah Niemann 0:16
Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode! This is going to be a really interesting episode for those of you who are not content with your breeding options that you have available on your own farm, and that’s because we’re gonna be talking about artificial insemination and goats today. And we are joined by Dr. Jamie Stewart, assistant professor in production management medicine at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. And, she literally didn’t write the whole book, but she wrote the chapter in the Merck Veterinary Manual about artificial insemination. Welcome to the show today!
Jamie Stewart 0:55
Thank you for having me, Deborah.
Deborah Niemann 0:57
So, let’s just get started at the very beginning. I know back when my daughters lived at home, and they were very much into goats, we actually had dinner table conversations sometimes about like, “Oh, I would love to buy semen from this buck or that buck so that we could have some of his kids in our herd.” Which was not very exciting conversation for my husband and my son at the time, who were not at all into goats. But, if you are into goats, sometimes the price of your favorite animal might be out of reach. Whereas the cost of semen, usually—I was just looking before we went on today—and usually they’re still running around $50 to $100 a straw. I did see one, it was $500. But way, way less than purchasing a buck from a great herd with excellent genetics.
Deborah Niemann 1:48
So, other than just getting some really cool genetics in your herd, what are some of the other reasons that people might want to do artificial insemination with their goats?
Jamie Stewart 1:57
So, a lot of it comes down to… Genetics are definitely the big thing. But not so much genetics as you would think about with certain traits that you want for show and things like that, but different traits for just survivability of your herd. I’m sure everybody on the podcast is aware that parasites are a huge issue and dewormer resistance is a huge issue. So, the resistance of each animal to parasites, their ability to basically overcome, especially the barber pole worm, one of those are genetically linked. So, we can actually select for animals that can better manage the Haemonchus load versus some other animals. And so, those are good genetics to bring on to your herd.
Jamie Stewart 2:42
And then, besides that—again, I know there’s a lot of people who own goats on here—you know, they stink, they’re destructive, the males, so a lot of people just don’t want to maintain them on their farm. And, as you mentioned, they can be quite pricey to have on your farm. But also, you know, you can only use them for a couple of seasons, especially if you have a smaller farm. Because once you start breeding, then you need to increase the genetic diversity on your farm after a couple of years. And, you know, they’re only good for a couple of years. So, even if you do have a buck on your farm, introducing AI into your herd protocols can be really beneficial for just helping the longevity of maintaining that buck in your herd so that you don’t lose that genetic diversity.
Deborah Niemann 3:23
How effective is AI in goats?
Jamie Stewart 3:27
So, when we talk about effectiveness of AI, we also have to take a step back and talk about what type of AI we’re doing. So, there’s a couple of different kinds. So, there’s the splashing method, where you basically just stick the insemination pipette in, and you just put semen in wherever you can get it, which usually goes into the vagina—which is an OK method if you’re using fresh or cool-shipped semen. So, if you have a buck that’s collected and it’s shipped directly to you, that can be pretty useful.
Jamie Stewart 3:57
When it doesn’t work is with your frozen semen. And obviously, if you’re going to be spending any money on semen, it’s going to end up being frozen. And the thing about frozen semen is, you have to put however much sperm that you can into a straw without affecting the quality, so you end up with a smaller number of sperm than what you can get if you’re doing cool-shipped semen or fresh semen, so to be able to freeze it into either a 1/4 CC or a 1/2 CC straw. So then, when you have frozen straw, your options are to do it… Intrauterine is going to be the best, but you can also get it sometimes intracervical and have OK outcomes with those.
Jamie Stewart 4:30
So, with the intrauterine, it’s either basically you can do it with a speculum in the vagina, and then you basically can pass the pipette through the cervix into the uterus. That’s one way to do it. And it’s difficult, because if you think of in cows, how we frequently breed them as we go in transrectally with our arm, and we actually can physically grab the cervix and help lead the pipette into the uterus and know what’s in there. Whereas with goats, we obviously have physical limitations. So, we can’t do that. So, we have to rely on kind of feeding it from the outside and hoping that it can make it through that really cartilage-dense cervix. And so, then, if we want to overcome that and have the best outcomes, laparoscopic artificial insemination is the next way to go, which, you know, as goat owners, I’m sure a lot of people are familiar at least that that’s an option.
Jamie Stewart 5:22
The issue with that is finding somebody who can come do it. Especially if you’re a small farm, you might have trouble getting somebody that can travel to you to do it. I know where I work now, we don’t do it a whole lot. But we do offer it in-house for anybody that has a smaller herd that would like to haul them to us. We can, you know, we can breed five goats or something like that that somebody wants. So, you have to have special equipment, you have to have special training, the goats have to be fasted, they have to get sedated, so there is quite an expense to go with it.
Jamie Stewart 5:55
But in terms of what the success rate is, you’re going to have a higher success rate. So, within the season, doing laparoscopic AI, you’re looking at anywhere between 70% to 90% success rates, versus the transcervical/intrauterine with your frozen semen, you’re looking at closer to probably 50% to 60% success rate. And there’s a lot of factors involved, including the semen itself, and what the quality of that’s like, how the female responds to the synchronization protocol, whether or not she’s showing estrus, if you have a vasectomized buck that you can tease her to, things like that are all going to affect the success rate also.
Deborah Niemann 6:31
Okay. And then, at the beginning, you mentioned the splash method. What’s the success rate of that?
Jamie Stewart 6:37
Again, that one can vary a little bit, but that’s probably closer to that 50% rate also. Again, because you’re just kind of putting it into the vagina. And it’s just like what the ram would be doing if he were breeding. So, if you have, you know, a big enough dose with good quality semen, you’re probably looking at close to a 50% success rate. But again, you don’t want to do that method with any frozen semen.
Deborah Niemann 6:57
Okay, right. And that would be the one that would require, like the least amount of skill, also.
Jamie Stewart 7:03
Deborah Niemann 7:04
Okay. I remember, back when we were showing goats and stuff, we met somebody at a show one time who was really new. And she decided that she did not want to own any bucks at all. And she had about a dozen does. And the next year, she wasn’t at any of the shows. And I was, I asked, like, “Oh, where’s So and So?” And somebody said, “Oh, you didn’t hear? None of her goats got pregnant.” And my thought was that maybe there was something wrong with her nitrogen tank? Or… Is that right? Is that the right term? Is it a nitrogen—?
Jamie Stewart 7:36
Yeah, liquid nitrogen.
Deborah Niemann 7:37
Okay. My thought was, “Oh my gosh, something must have gone wrong with her nitrogen tank.” Because it seems like even 50%, there would have been some pregnant does, right? So she would have some does in milk that she could show. So, other than, like, a nitrogen tank failure or something where your your semen doesn’t stay at the right temperature, is there any other… What are other reasons for failure?
Jamie Stewart 7:58
I would say the biggest one is the response to your synchronization protocol, whatever type of synchronization you’re using. That’s why, you know, we emphasize estrus detection really heavily. So, some people will try to use more of a timed AI protocol, so that they don’t have to focus on estrus detection, but it is still really important to make sure that they’re responding to it. And then, the other one is, that kind of goes along with it is—and I’m gonna laugh a little bit, just because I know all goat owners know about this—but body condition. So, we see especially… There’s typical breeds that begin with a B and end with an R and have an O-E in between, that are notorious for being over-conditioned. And when they’re over-conditioned like that, the hormones inside, they just don’t respond like they should. So it’s just… You know, human women have the same issues when they’re overweight. And it’s the same thing with overweight goats, is they just don’t respond to their synchronization protocols. They don’t cycle as effectively. And sometimes, it affects your ability to even get a good insemination on them if you’re doing AI, just because they do have a little bit more barriers to go through.
Deborah Niemann 9:08
Yeah, that is a really good point. All of the same rules that apply for natural breeding with a buck also apply to AI. And I know, years ago, there was a woman who had a herd of Saanens, and she decided she wanted to start with Nigerians. And she got this little Nigerian doe, and she’s like, “She’s not getting pregnant.” And I went to visit her one day, and I saw that doe, and I almost fainted. And then I saw her, like, get a big, huge scope of grain out, and I’m like, “Uh, what are you feeding this girl?” Because she was feeding her like she was a Saanen. And to this day, I still have never seen a Nigerian so obese. And so, she put the goat on a diet, and she got pregnant.
Jamie Stewart 9:47
Yeah. And I always tell my students, when I teach them reproductive management with small ruminants, is its opposite for males and females. At the beginning of the season, we almost want the females a little bit under-conditioned, because, especially if we’re going to do any kind of nutritional flushing of them, they respond better. If you do your sudden introduction of whatever energy source you’re trying to do, they’ll respond better to it, and have better proliferative effects with it when you’re trying to have twins. And better, I guess, double ovulations. Versus, if they already, kind of, of a good condition, they’re not really going to respond if you, you know, start giving them more corn, things like that. So, whereas the males, we want them to actually start a little bit on the heavier side, because they’re going to drop so much condition during the breeding season. So, they’re a little bit opposite of each other, where we want them to be.
Deborah Niemann 10:33
Okay. And then, if somebody wants to do this, I’m sure one of the first questions most people are asking is, “How much does it cost to inseminate a goat?” Now, I mentioned the price of the semen, which is, like, really the cheapest part. And there’s, I’m sure, there’s also a broad variety here, based on whether you wanted to do it yourself, or you have an AI tech do it, or a vet do it. Can you just kind of give some general guidelines of what people can expect to pay?
Jamie Stewart 11:00
Yeah. The transcervical is going to be the cheapest, even if you have a vet come out to do it, because it doesn’t require any kind of specialized equipment besides an insemination rod. And so, it usually… And it depends on how many animals you have, because a lot of times vets are going to charge for their time, mostly. So, you know, if you have us come out, and we set everything up to do 20 animals, the cost per animal is going to decrease a little bit versus if we’re doing five animals, because, you know, taking into account the setup time. So I’d say, in general, for the transcervical, it’s probably going to run you somewhere between $5 and $15 an animal, depending on, you know, how many animals you have to do. The more animals you have, the less per animal it’s going to end up being.
Jamie Stewart 11:41
Whereas for the laparoscopic AI, it’s a huge undertaking. It’s a lot of equipment. You know, we show up at the trailer; we’ve got tables and laparoscope machines; we’ve got cradles to put the animals in; we’ve got all of the anesthesia drugs, and everything like that. And then, we have to have a technician come with us, because we need one person that’s helping to load straws and someone that’s helping to prep the animal. Sometimes, we recruit the owners to do that, to help with lifting and preparing the animals for the procedure. So that one, again, it’s going to range a little bit depending on how many you do, but it’s going to be somewhere between probably $50 and $80 an animal for that one. But, you get the better success rates for that. So, if you, you know, if you’re using a really expensive straw of semen, you probably don’t want to mess around with transcervical; you probably want to go straight to doing laparoscopic to get the best success rates for that.
Jamie Stewart 12:32
And then, another thing that… I don’t know if some people tell you this, and we do it a lot in the deer industry, is splitting straws can be done with laparoscopic insemination. If you buy a 1/2 CC straw, you can easily split that between two animals. Because a lot of times—this is the dirty secret that people don’t like to talk about—is when we freeze semen for goats, is we freeze it for doing a transcervical insemination. So, that’s the dose we’re aiming for. So, if it’s a good-quality straw, we need much, much, much less sperm to be able to do it laparoscopically. So hypothetically, you can split that straw amongst two animals. And you can get a little bit more bang for your buck. Pun intended.
Deborah Niemann 13:14
That was a good one! I like puns.
Deborah Niemann 13:17
So, that would be, like, if you bought that $500 semen that I saw in the online catalog, that would be a good idea. That would be heartbreaking, to use that and have it fail.
Jamie Stewart 13:27
Right. And again, if it’s a 1/2 CC straw, yes; if it’s a 1/4 CC straw, you’ll struggle a little bit with volume. But there are ways to do it. But, the more you manipulate it, the more compromised the sperm are going to become. I know one of my bosses said that he had an owner that wanted to split a straw five ways, and you have to add more extender to it, and at that point, you’re just wasting money. So, two ways is the most that I’ll ever recommend to be able to split a straw, and that’s if it comes in 1/2 CCs, because a lot of times the—at least the insemination rod I use for laparoscopic AI—it only takes 1/4 CC straws. So, we have to… Basically, we have to move it into a 1/4 CC straw anyways. And so, we have to put it in two different ones. So then, we could use it for two different animals.
Deborah Niemann 14:11
Okay, that makes a lot of sense. Is there anything else that people should know about artificial insemination, before going out and buying a nitrogen tank and making an appointment to do this?
Jamie Stewart 14:23
I would just say, definitely, I mean, going back to the kind of the management of your herd. Everybody always, you know, when it comes to deworming or your sick animals, everybody always wants the magic shot. So, a good synchronization protocol is not going to overcome a bad management protocol. So, going back to if your animals are too over-conditioned, or if they’re really under-conditioned, if you have bad parasite problems, it all goes back to basic herd management. And, you know, if you’re trying to improve your herd just by doing AI, you’re gonna be pretty sad at the end. So, start with making sure that your herd’s healthy, and then move on to that.
Jamie Stewart 15:02
And then, the other thing is becoming comfortable with aspects of the synchronization protocol. Because as a vet, I’m, you know, I’m happy to come out and put CIDRs in your animals and pull the CIDRs and give shots. But, you know, you could save so much money by doing some of that stuff yourself. So, and there’s different protocols that you can do. But especially if we’re trying to do out of season, then we have to do the CIDR. So. And I guess I could talk a little bit about the synchronization part of it, if you want? Some of the issues with the different protocols, if that’s if that’s a topic you wanted to touch on?
Deborah Niemann 15:35
Yeah, that sounds great.
Jamie Stewart 15:36
So, when we think about our synchronization, so we think about in-season versus out of season, because I know a lot of people like to try to breed out of season to try to, you know, have kind of a constant stream of kids year-round. Which is okay, but we have to really take the physiology of the animal into account. And so, the biggest thing is that these animals are not cycling, so when they cycle on the ovary, first they have… I’ll start with kind of, like, the basic physiology, is on the ovary, they start with a follicle. The follicle produces estrogen, the estrogen is what stimulates the structures in the brain to release the hormones—luteinizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone—that eventually lead to ovulation. So, all of that has to be happening.
Jamie Stewart 15:36
And unfortunately, with our small ruminants, this all gets—well, not for all of the small ruminants. But certain ones that are more seasonal than the others, a lot of this gets shut down in the springtime, which a lot of people know. And so, and then this is also a genetic thing, that you can select for is animals that—going back to what we were talking about before—is that the animals who tend to breed good out of season will pass that trait on. So, if you’re trying to do year-round kidding, you want to select for those animals and continue to breed them. So, that’s another trait that you can look for.
Jamie Stewart 16:52
But it’s always good to do some synchronization. Because the biggest thing that stimulates that follicle to grow, is you have to have—before you get that follicle—you have to have a source of progesterone. The progesterone is, like, we think of it as the “pregnancy maintenance hormone.” Everybody knows of it as that. But it also has this priming effect, that you can’t get pregnant off of estrus if there’s no progesterone before. And there’s a whole physiological mechanism that involves receptors and things like that, but basically, you just have to have a source of progesterone beforehand, and then the progesterone goes away. And then, you can get a fertile ovulation after that. And so, that’s a really key part. And so, that’s why when we are talking about breeding animals outside of the season, especially ones that are not cycling, is the first thing we’re going to have you do is put a CIDR in.
Jamie Stewart 17:42
So, CIDR stands for “controlled internal drug release.” And it’s just, it looks like—if you guys have ever seen it—it looks like an IUD. But it goes into the vagina. Really easy to put in, really easy to take out. Very consistent progesterone. I have a lot of people ask about different things like Regu-mate or Matrix that you can feed to the animal, and we really don’t recommend those, because it’s hard to control exactly how much they eat. And some of the problems with that is if you overdose it or underdose it, then you can have issues. Like, how I just talked about how important that progesterone was? You can have issues with getting cystic follicles, and then that animal becomes temporarily or permanently infertile. So, I typically don’t recommend using those, because we have the CIDRs available, and they are so accurate with how much progesterone they give. You don’t have to worry about underdosing or overdosing it. So, the CIDR is very important when you’re out of season breeding. And it works really well for in-season breeding, too.
Jamie Stewart 17:43
But, you know, those cost, I’m going to say probably like $5 or $6 per animal now, if I remember the last time I looked at them. So, if you’re doing a large number, it’s not always practical for in-season breeding. So sometimes, you know, we can just do the lutalyse method, where you give a couple of shots of lutalyse several weeks apart. And the way the lutalyse works, is it basically is going to bring the animal in heat, which most people know. So, the structure on the ovary that normally produces that progesterone that we’re so worried about, called the corpus luteum, the lutalyse—it’s all in the name. It lysis the corpus luteum. So, it gets rid of that corpus luteum. So, you’re getting rid of that source of progesterone, so it’s bringing them into heat.
Jamie Stewart 19:22
Now, the reason why we always say, you know, “Do a couple of doses, especially if you’re doing a big group,” is because depending on where the does are at in their cycle, they might not be at a point where that corpus luteum is ready to respond to the lutalyse you give. So, if you, you know, if you treat one group of animals, you might get 2/3 of them that respond. But, if you want to breed all of them at the same time, then you wait, and then you’ll get, you know, the majority; you’ll probably get 90-some percent of those animals if you wait until after the second one, because they’ll have all formed that corpus luteum that’s in the right stage. So—
Deborah Niemann 19:54
Jamie Stewart 19:54
—that’s how we do that. Go ahead.
Deborah Niemann 19:56
How long do you wait before you give that second dose of lutalyse?
Jamie Stewart 19:59
Usually, the recommended time is 12 days. But people have an easier time remembering two weeks, so we tend to say two weeks. But you’ll get a little bit better response if you can do it at 12 days for the second one.
Deborah Niemann 20:13
Okay. Those are all really great tips. And, just so people are clear, when you’re talking about laparoscopic insemination, it’s like surgery, basically.
Jamie Stewart 20:23
Deborah Niemann 20:23
And so, you’re talking about going in through the abdomen into the uterus. And one thing I was reading about that, was that it talked about potential for scarring and future infertility. And it just went on. And I’m like, “Hold it! Hold it!” What are the, like, what are the odds of that? Like, is that super rare? Or, how often does that happen?
Jamie Stewart 20:43
I would say it’s pretty rare. You know, we’ve had a lot of animals that, you know, we can breed over time. And I think the more you breed them, the more likely they’re going to get adhesions, but I would say probably less than 5% of the time. And it’s hard to say, because, you know, following up with them, you don’t always know if this animal’s been bred before, but most of the ones that I’ve seen—I mean, pretty much all of the ones that I’ve seen—I’ve never found adhesions in animals that I know have been AI’d before. So, but I think the follow-up to it is a little bit difficult, but it does seem pretty rare. It’s just something to kind of keep in mind. It’s… You know, every procedure has its risks.
Deborah Niemann 21:21
Okay, good to know.
Deborah Niemann 21:22
Wow, you’ve had a lot of really great information here today! Any last-minute thoughts on what people need to do or know before they get started?
Jamie Stewart 21:32
I would definitely say, just work with your veterinarian. Most of the drugs that you’re going to need to get, you’ll need to get through them. And especially if your veterinarian does anything with goats, even if they’re not going to be the ones to do the AI—I know there’s some laypeople that travel and do it—most of the time, they do have to have a veterinarian on-site. So, make sure that you, you know, have a good relationship with your vet, that they would be willing to, you know, come help with that. And that, you know, they’ll have to charge somebody for that, for their time. But they’ll probably be a little bit nicer about how much they charge if you’re a good client of theirs, you work with them hard for your herd health protocols every year. You know, they probably will be a little bit more generous about that.
Jamie Stewart 22:10
So, just make sure you plan ahead. We always laugh, because when we’re planning to do AI, you don’t just start at the beginning. You start from, “When do I want to kid?” And then, we go backwards to “OK, so when do we need to breed them?” And then, we have to step back to “OK, how are we going to synchronize them?” So, it ends up, you know, taking a whole lot of planning. So, you know, whether you’re having a veterinarian that’s going to come do laparoscopic, or if you’re planning to do your own transcervical AI, just make sure that you know your schedule, and you plan things really, really well in advance.
Deborah Niemann 22:42
Yeah. It’s kind of funny, I’m smiling as you describe that, because that’s how I planned this podcast episode. Because originally, like, last year, in the fall, I was like, “Oh, I should do something on AI!” And I’m like, “Hold it. If I do something on AI now, it is not going to help anybody this fall.” Like, “I need to do it, like, back up a little.” And so, I’m like, “Oh, July is a good time to talk about this!” So, that’ll give people a couple of months to get everything they need, get their supplies, talk to their vet, find the semen that they want, and all that kind of stuff.
Jamie Stewart 23:12
Absolutely. And if the vets do any reproductive work, a lot of them will have their own liquid nitrogen tanks. So, you know, and they’ll charge you for storage, but, you know, a lot of times we don’t, if we’re going to use the semen within the next, like, couple of months, and it’s just coming to us, we usually don’t really charge very much for storage if it’s something that we’re going to use right away. It’s only the ones that end up here for years and years that we end up storing. So again, it’s worthwhile to have kind of a relationship with your vet, because they, you know, they might have some of those resources that you don’t have to invest in.
Deborah Niemann 23:42
Awesome! This has been really exciting and very interesting. And it’s got me thinking about it again, too. So, because we have a much smaller herd now than we used to have, and so it’s hard to justify having more than a buck or two around.
Jamie Stewart 23:58
Deborah Niemann 23:59
Thanks so much for joining us today.
Jamie Stewart 24:01
Well, thank you very much for having me.
Deborah Niemann 24:04
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now!