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The Cattle Connection

Details matter when artificially inseminating beef cows

As breeding season for spring-calving cows’ approaches, now is a good time to refresh on semen handling practices. Often, semen handling gets overlooked as we focus on estrus detection, synchronization, and semen placement. However, proper handling is just as important and cannot be overlooked.

Tank Management

Semen tanks are a valuable resource and need to be periodically checked to ensure proper condition. Storage duration of semen is indefinite if maintained properly. Tanks should be stored in a dry, well-ventilated area, away from direct sunlight. The movement of these tanks should be limited as that could damage the inner chamber.

Monitor the exterior of the tank. Sweat and frost on the outside surface can be indicators of an issue with the liquid nitrogen or the seal of the tank. If this happens, check the tank for liquid nitrogen using a wooden stick. If some liquid is present, the semen could still be viable and transferred to another tank. If there is no liquid present, the tank has reached temperatures that are too warm, and the semen is potentially ineffective. Contact your semen distributor immediately for more information.

Retrieving Semen

Although it is for a short period of time, semen damage can occur when it is retrieved from the tank. It is important to follow these procedures to avoid damage:

  • Keep a detailed account of storage location and inventory of semen to spend less time searching with the tank opened.
  • Move the desired canister to the center of the tank, keeping it below the neck of the tank.
  • Identify the cane within the canister quickly. This is when a detailed storage inventory will be beneficial. If the cane cannot be found within 5-10 seconds, place the canister back into its position. Close the tank to allow it to rechill completely, then try again.
  • If the desired straw within the cane cannot be located within 5-10 seconds, place the cane and canister back into position, close the tank, and allow it to rechill for 30 seconds.
  • Use tweezers or forceps to remove one straw at a time. Be sure to keep the cane as low as possible in the tank to prevent thawing damage. Gently shake the straw to remove any excess liquid nitrogen.
  • Place the cane and canister back into position as quickly as possible.


After removal from the tank, proper thawing is essential to sperm vitality. Some semen companies will provide specific instructions for thawing their product. Use those whenever possible. If that is unavailable, revert to these general practices.

  • Place the straw in a thaw bath, or a wide-mouth thermos, with the water temperature at 95°F. Use a thermometer to ensure temperature accuracy. Make sure the entire straw is submerged.
  • Straws should thaw in the water for at least 45 seconds.
  • Only thaw what can be used within 15 minutes.

Insemination Process

Once the semen is thawed, follow these procedures to inseminate the animal safely and effectively.

  • Before insemination, warm the AI gun by rubbing it with a paper towel or placing it close to your body for several minutes.
  • Remove the straw from the water bath, and wipe it dry with a paper towel while keeping it out of direct sunlight and wind.
  • Examine the straw to ensure the bubble is at the crimped end. If not, gently tap the straw to make the bubble move.
  • Load the AI gun. Cut the crimped end of the straw ¼ inch below the crimped seal. Use clean, sharp scissors, and cut the straw squarely.
  • Following the insemination procedure, thoroughly clean all equipment.


AI is a beneficial tool for cattle producers as it allows for the selection of individualized, superior genetics and limits the spread of disease within a herd. Proper semen handling is essential to the insemination process and cannot be dismissed.