It's not uncommon for the best performers at any given job to deviate over time from set protocols and procedures (the experts refer to this as "Procedural Drift"). Some repetitive tasks become second nature to us and we start forgetting to check the basics. When trouble shooting, it's easy to overlook these basics.

A herd I recently visited is the perfect example of this. After struggling with poor conception rates for some time the producer called a meeting of the herd's veterinarian, nutritionist, and semen supplier. After going through all the possibilities of what might be wrong with the diet, herd health, bull selection, and A.I. technique the semen supplier asked to check the producers A.I. equipment, including the water bath. What did they find? The farms automatic water bath was malfunctioning and was off by more than 4° F! Checking the basics early on would have identified the culprit for low conception rates much sooner for this farm.

Bottom line, periodically checking you're A.I. technique and equipment is well worth the time and effort. Here's a checklist to get you started thinking about your operation.

Semen storage:

* Liquid Nitrogen tanks are kept off of concrete

* Tanks are visible to someone daily for early warning of leaks / tank failures

* Liquid nitrogen is added when levels fall to 3", below 1" is critically low

* Tanks are kept in a well-lit area for easy viewing into the neck for straw selection and removal

* Semen straws are removed from the cane quickly, and the canister is kept below the frost line of the tank

* If we have a straw that's difficult to remove (takes longer than 10 seconds) we lower the canister for 20-30 seconds and try again later

* We shake the straw gently to removed excess liquid nitrogen

Semen handling:

* Our A.I. gun and equipment is cleaned regularly and kept sanitary

* We use tweezers and not fingers to remove straws

* We double check Sire ID before breeding cows

* We double check water bath temperatures to ensure accuracy (this includes using a separate thermometer to check automatic water baths). 95° F for 45 seconds is the target for most suppliers.

* A.I. guns are warmed before loading to avoid cold shock

* Semen straws are wiped dry before loading into the A.I. gun

* A.I. guns are protected (wrapped in towel, inside jacket or clothing) between loading the A.I. gun and reaching the desired cow to be bred

Semen placement:

* Semen is in the cow within 10-15 minutes of thawing

* We use clean A.I. gloves and sheath protectors for every cow

* Use your index finger to check placement of the A.I. gun tip, but raise your finger off the tip to deposit the semen

* Semen is deposited in the uterine body (not the uterine horns and not in the cervix)

A more expansive A.I. checklist can be found on eXtension at: http://www.extension.org/pages/25368/improving-artificial-insemination-techniques

Source: Ryan Sterry, UW Extension