Artificial insemination (AI) of pigs

Everything you need to know about AI, from semen storage and handling, keeping records, care and the bungee serving technique.

Semen storage and handling

It is important take care when storing and handling AI doses on your unit. This is because rough handling, temperature shock and exposure to light can all damage semen.

If the storage temperature fluctuates beyond the minimum or maximum recommended figures, motility can fall and sperm agglutination can occur – this is when sperm stick together. If this happens, it decreases the total number of sperm per dose.

Care of semen

Key information

  • Storage temperature should be within the range of 15–19°C (59°–66°F)
  • Semen is extremely temperature sensitive and shelf life is significantly shortened above 19°C
  • Viability is reduced and sperm may even suffer cold shock and die below 15°C 
  • Never store semen in a conventional refrigerator (2–8°C) or at room temperature (>20°C)

Store semen doses horizontally, not in an upright position. This ensures maximum contact between sperm and the diluent in which it is preserved, which maintains nutrient availability to the sperm, and is important to protect semen viability and maximise shelf life.

Semen storage equipment

Make sure the storage cabinet:

  • heats/cools effectively and is fan assisted – do not obstruct the fan
  • meets the needs of your unit in terms of operating limits. Never exceed the container’s design capacity. (Contact your cabinet supplier for advice)
  • is large enough to house doses loosely, allowing air to circulate between stored doses
  • has a door or lid that can be kept securely closed

Take remedial action if temperature fluctuates outside the set range while the lid is closed.

Make sure your thermometer:

  • is properly calibrated
  • is routinely checked for accuracy and recorded and reset regularly (twice a day)
  • measures the temperature of liquid and not air
  • is kept in the storage container permanently

Semen delivery and transportation

Semen needs to be delivered directly into a suitable temperature-controlled or insulated box, located at the edge of the unit and out of direct sunlight.

  • Set up a simple system that logs delivery time and temperatures, and alerts to the arrival of fresh semen so it can be collected immediately
  • Consider rejecting semen delivered at a temperature outside the acceptable range

Keeping records and semen usage

Recording

Keep a simple filing system to ensure timely use of semen doses. This should include:

  • stock IDs and numbers
  • delivery date/time
  • use-by dates so the oldest semen can be used first (and expired semen discarded)

Extend the filing system to the storage container and organise semen logically for use. For instance, place the oldest at front. 

Make sure you identify expired semen and stock shortages before they become a problem.

Usage

Calculate the number of doses needed for one hour’s worth of inseminations. A useful rule of thumb is to allow for eight inseminations per person per hour, so the number of semen doses to take out = 8 x the number of inseminators (if insemination rate is known to be different from eight, change the number).

Only remove the required number of doses from storage at any one time. This prevents unnecessary and prolonged exposure of semen to temperature fluctuations and avoids returning unused and possibly damaged semen to storage.

Keep a detailed log of any semen doses returned from the service area to storage; providing semen quality has not been compromised, make sure semen returned to storage is logged, monitored and used quickly.

Transporting to service area

  • Use a soft bag with separate compartments, each holding a few doses only, to transport semen to the service area
  • Use a temperature-controlled, portable, semen storage box to store semen doses into the service area. Ensure insulated containers are kept between 15–19°C (59°–66°F)
  • If possible, store the container in the temperature-controlled semen cabinet so it is always at the right temperature
  • Gel packs can help buffer ambient temperatures; store these in the temperature-controlled semen cabinet so they are always at the right temperature
  • Keep containers/gel packs clean and in good condition
  • Only remove doses as they are needed for insemination, not before the catheter has been introduced
  • Always replace the lid promptly and securely

Semen shelf life

Always use semen within its specified shelf life – it's important to know precisely what the shelf life is for each batch.

Order what you need for when you need it and make sure individual doses are clearly identifiable.

Delivered semen is preserved in diluent, which supports the semen for a limited period, e.g. number of days indicated on the label, with day 1 being day of collection and day 2 being day of delivery (this may vary). Using properly stored semen within this time period helps reduce wastage and improve quality.

Agitating doses

Turning or gently rotating stored semen twice a day keeps it mixed with the protective diluent in each dose. This helps to maximise shelf life and promote sperm viability.

Remember that semen quality is compromised by rough handling, so always be gentle.

Indoor breeding: AI service

Outdoor breeding: AI service

Bungee serving technique

The bungee system is one example of a serving technique that increases labour efficiency in a loose-housed serving environment, similar to sows served in stalls, as a leave-alone system with the AI attached overhead.

Artificial insemination of a sow using the bungee serving technique

Benefits of bungee serving

  • The system is simple and easy to use
  • Sows get some stimulation by the bungee
  • Multiple sows can be served by one operator
  • Time reduced by an hour a day
  • Bungee ropes are cheap and easy to get hold of
  • All staff can replicate the system, which ensures a stable service strategy all year round

Key to success

  • Make the bungees easily accessible in the serving area
  • Provide snout-to-snout contact, and check for standing heat as normal
  • Place the bungee around the sow, just in front of the back legs, and clip together using the end hooks, roughly where the spine would be
  • Make sure the bungee lies behind all functional teats
  • Make sure the bungee is tight, but not too tight that it causes discomfort. Insert catheter and attach flat pack as normal
  • Carefully attach the bungee hook to the flat pack through one of the pre-made holes in the top of the flat pack
  • With the sow still in front of the boar, the insemination will happen as normal and the AI dose will be slowly drawn into the sow
  • The flat pack and bungee can remain in situ until the dedicated rest period is over, when you can dismantle in reverse
  • Or the bungee system can be removed after the AI has drained from the catheter and the sow can remain in front of the boar for the resting period
  • It is important not to have the bungee too far up the back of the sow, so the catheter remains rounded and not too angular
  • Gilts may need extra attention during AI

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