A shortened version of this was posted in the MGR newsletter dated 08/31/2020.
I think most breeders that are trying to better their herd will tell you they spend a significant amount of time planning their upcoming breeding pairs. I personally study bloodlines, spend more time than I will admit sitting on a bucket in my pasture staring down my does. I watch them walk and watch how they stand; I know what traits I want to pass on and what I need to overcome. Some may say there is a science to it, I would say a better description would be an obsession about it.
I will also say I love bucks. Some might even say I can be a buck hoarder. More often than not these big, stinky guys are the first to want attention, will rub all over you and try to give you kisses. Bucks, aside from their not-so-lovely cologne and habit of peeing on you, are wonderful.
I always encourage new breeders to spend as much money on their buck as possible. Buy the absolute best quality you can find and afford. Why? It’s simple…the objective of breeding should always be to produce better than you currently own. If you have a doe with faults and you breed her (hopefully with a buck that will offset those faults), she is only going to produce one set of kids; however, if you are using your buck to cover, for example, 10 does, you are giving him 10 chances to pass on both good and bad traits. Your buck really is the animal that will make or break your herd.
So a couple years ago when I was sitting on my bucket in the pasture, swatting flies, and staring at my does, I was hit with the realization that a couple of my does exceeded the quality of the bucks eating in my front pasture. What do you do in this situation? Well, first you phone a friend (THANK YOU Hanna and Tahra Bedwell!) and borrow a buck for the year but borrowing a buck in my situation isn’t a realistic thing to do year after year. Next, I started looking around for available bucks but when you are searching for the quality of buck I was looking for they really aren’t that easy to find. Then a friend I know through horses asked if people A.I. goats the way they do horses, and this got me thinking…
My research started with Google (because isn’t that where all research starts?) and according to Google the success rate of goat A.I. is pretty low. I talked with a couple local veterinarians, and a local college with an amazing veterinarian program. The highest success rate I was given was 50%. That’s not worth the cost in my opinion but I kept thinking that this is such a huge business with Boer goats, surely the breeders paying hundreds, and even thousands for straws are not spending that kind of money on a 50% success rate.
If you are interested in A.I. I’ve outlined the steps from my experience below.
Step #1: Choosing your buck to see if you even want to look more into A.I.. As it was pointed out to me, with the small selection of bucks we have available for A.I. you have to decide if one of those bucks will benefit your does. Thankfully the bucks that are collected are worth looking into A.I.. I glanced around at other breeds out of curiosity and found many breeds have straws available out there. What a great way to bring new genetics into your herd!
A note on buying straws. My clinic recommended two straws per goat. This can add up quickly. It doesn’t really apply to Myotonics because there are limited collected bucks, but here’s the deal with any breed…buy the straws you want. Buy two. All your other expenses are going to be the same so do everything you can to increase your odds of success. The last thing you want is to get to the clinic, sedate your doe, and then find out something is wrong with your chosen buck’s straw. With all the Boer breeders at my clinic if a Boer straw wasn’t viable someone would have had an extra straw you could purchase but with Myos that isn’t going to be an option.
Step #2: Find someone in your area that does A.I.. My suggestion is to contact local Boer show breeders and ask if they A.I.. If they don’t, chances are they know someone that does. I found a clinic about an hour from me that was going to A.I. through the LAP procedure.
There are two ways to A.I. goats – Laparoscopic Insemination (LAP) and cervical insemination. The clinic I went to A.I.’d through LAP because it bypasses the cervix and is more reliable; however, it is more evasive. More on that below.
Step #3: Purchase straws. I contacted the genetics lab where the straws I wanted to purchase were stored (one of my many “you sound like an idiot” conversations). I was told I needed to purchase the straws at least a month in advance. In fact, the more time I could give them the better.
The person putting on my clinic was super helpful when it came to shipping the straws. I was able to have them shipped to him and he stored them in his tank until the clinic for free. Don’t let the fact that you don’t have a storage tank stop you from looking into A.I.. You may have to pay a little to store the straws, but it should be minimal. I also found out talking with people at my clinic that if people go so far as investing in a tank, they usually purchase one large enough to help out a fellow breeder with storage for a nominal fee.
Step #4: Follow protocol. My clinic sponsor sent out the protocol about three weeks in advance.
These were my protocol instructions:
Day 1 (anytime) - Insert CIDRs
Now, I didn’t know how to insert a CIDR so I called a neighbor I found out later also does A.I. He showed me how to do it. The does were not crazy about it but it’s quick, painless, and easy. You do need an applicator – something to keep in mind. They aren’t expensive and are reusable.
Day 9 (anytime) - Inject with Lutalyse or Estrumate - I used Lutalyse
Day 11 (11 a.m.) - Remove CIDR (48 hours) and 50 hours prior to LAI (frozen)
A couple notes here… first, removing the CIDRs. Set your alarm, set a second alarm, and then don’t be an hour away when they go off (…says the person speaking from experience). I didn’t get my CIDR removed when I was supposed to. This process is timed to a very small window. Our clinic ended up taking a break so we could start A.I. at exactly 1:00 and then moved does through the steps like a well-oiled machine. There were no breaks and if we got behind in prepping does the vet stepped out to help, it’s that precise. Take this part very seriously. THIS step is what will make or break your success with A.I.
Next, about exposing to a buck. This isn’t necessary but is encouraged. One, because it gives you an idea if the doe is in heat or not but also because exposing the doe to a buck can actually help bring her into heat.
Day 12 (morning) - remove Feed 18-24 hours pre-breeding, remove water 12 hours pre-breeding
Pulling food/water ensures their abdomen isn’t full and reduces the risk of regurgitation and aspiration. It also helps during the actual procedure reducing the pressure around their abdomen and providing more room to work. The vet mentioned during my first doe being A.I.d that I could remove feed 36 or even 48 hours before because my girls have very healthy rumens and they still had hay (actually pasture…and a lot of it) at the time of the procedure. I put them in stalls a full 24 hours before the clinic. I would pull them from hay/pasture at least 48 hours in advance and provide a smaller amount of food the first 24 hours, then pull all food at 24 hours.
Day 13 - LAI
There are things you can do to help with conception rates. LAI later in the year (2nd estrous cycle or later), breed does showing heat cycles when exposed to a teaser buck, take does off feed/water as noted above; only breed does in “breeding” condition vs. “show” condition, and use quality semen. The three does I took were in their prime, have successfully conceived, produced healthy, live kids multiple times and were otherwise as healthy as I could get them. I talked with a couple breeders that A.I. every year and they both said they have not had good luck breeding does by A.I. for maiden does. No actual science behind this but I trust the people that have been doing this for years to know what works and what doesn’t.
Here’s the deal. You get one chance at this, so you really have to commit to being “all in” when it comes to the timing of your instructions. You get one chance for your expense to pay off because when you get to the clinic either the doe is ready or she isn’t. The methods are proven, they work, follow them.
Step #5: After care. I was told at the clinic I could give the does hay and water as soon as they were up and moving around on their own. They were extremely happy to have hay in front of them! I wasn’t graining at the time and does were out on pasture, so I just watched their incisions and watched them to make sure they didn’t appear “off”. More on this below.
What to expect during A.I.
I was horrible at science as a kid and still have nightmares about sticking bugs and spiders on corkboard with pins for a project (do kids still do this? I think I just dated myself), but I will say I was pretty excited about the A.I. clinic!
We couldn’t start A.I until after 1:00 but there was plenty to do and watch before! I got there about 8:30 a.m. and procedures were already started. I was able to watch does being flushed. Interesting how it’s done but once you’ve watched a couple the “oh cool” wears off, and embryo transfers. This was fun because it was like winning the bid at an auction over and over- if the recip doe was viable the vet would quietly shout “SHE’S GOOD”, (silly but stupidly exciting) before we got started on A.I.. Since I was late taking out my CIDR I was one of the last to have the procedure done so I really did get to see a lot.
My clinic had people helping in what I would call stations. First does were sedated by a veterinarian student from Iowa State. The doe was held there until the sedation started to work. When she was obviously going under she was lifted onto a cradle and placed on her back with her back legs tied. Then the doe was moved over and her abdomen was shaved (we shaved and vacuumed to get all the hair and anything else lurking around their abdomen); next they were moved over and their abdomen area was cleaned and they were given a shot of antibiotic; then they was moved into another room for the actual procedure. For the procedure, the doe is actually sedated, on her back and upside down.
Two small incisions are made…there are several other steps here that I won’t go in to because I’m not a vet and would probably not get it all correct but at the same time the veterinarian was working on the doe the buck’s semen was being looked at under a microscope and evaluated.
What I was told about straws: When a buck is collected the semen is tested and must meet specific standards. If the semen passes that test it is frozen, thawed, and tested again where it must again meet certain standards to be deemed worthy of freezing. Some goats can be collected but their semen doesn’t pass the freezing test. Semen collected and frozen correctly can be viable for 30+ years. Something to think about as you plan for the future of your herd.
My straws were shipped from the collection center frozen and remained frozen until it was my turn at the clinic. Straws were pulled, verified they were mine, and thawed. After being thawed the semen was looked at for mobility before the procedure. This is why they say to purchase two straws per doe. If the mobility is down, this gives you two chances for higher mobility or they can use both straws to increase success odds. My straws were excellent quality. I had purchased two straws per doe so ended up with three straws still available to use later.
After the actual procedure was done the two incisions were sprayed, stapled or stitched if needed (usually not needed for A.I.), and given a shot to help them wake up. The does were taken off the cradle and propped up in an area so we could watch them and wait for them to fully wake up. I think this was the most stressful part for me but all three of my girls were fine and we had no issues with any of the 50+ does done that day.
IMPORTANT! For those that want to register these kids you need to make sure you have the correct paperwork, part of which the person doing the A.I. procedure may need to sign. For my registration I also needed to include the receipt for the purchase of my straws. Research to know what your registry requires.
Costs: My A.I. experience is with horses and with horses A.I. can get expense fast! I actually figured A.I. would be too expensive with goats to be realistic but was at the point I decided to look into it anyway. I’ve listed a breakdown of my costs below. Obviously, costs will be different for everyone, but this will give you an idea.
Straws: I purchased two straws per doe from two different bucks – Straws ran from $80-$100 per straw (available straws for Myos actually ran from $50-$100). Again, there aren’t many Myotonics collected. Out of curiosity I looked at Boers and there really are some amazing goats available out there. Prices started around $25 and basically the sky is the limit (I found one straw that sold for $19,000. Yes, really, that many zeros behind the nine!). After seeing some of the Boer bucks available I joked with a friend who breeds Boers that I’m glad I breed Myos instead. I’d go broke A.I.ing Boers.
Shipping from the genetics lab to the clinic. My cost was $130. I paid two-day shipping to the clinic and ground transport for the shipping container back to the genetics lab.
Straw Storage: Since I had my straws shipped directly to my clinic location, I didn’t have to pay storage from shipping to the time of the clinic. I ended up only using three of my six straws and did commit to doing another clinic. I’m paying $30 in storage for my three remaining straws until next year.
Clinic: I found a clinic within an hour of me. I was told to figure $100 per goat to cover the vet’s costs and if it was less be happy. The clinic ended up being $171 for the three does, and $45 paid to the person holding the clinic for cleanup, supplies, drinks (they had coolers with water, soda and tea available all day) and a fantastic lunch (with homemade brownies!). The veterinarian for our clinic actually came in from Indiana and travels all over doing these clinics.
Pre-clinic protocol: I purchased everything from my vet since I was only going to A.I. three does and didn’t know when I’d be A.I.ing again. If you are going to use more it may be worth purchasing from somewhere else but, for example, the CIDRs I found online came in packs of 20+ and were $120+. If I were going to use them, I’d buy online, but with my small group it just wasn’t worth buying that many. Keep in mind you do need a CIDR applicator. The total from my vet was just under $74 for both shots and the CIDRs for all three does.
Are there negatives?
Yes, there are some negatives. You have your obvious negative that it’s a procedure so there isn’t a guarantee the doe is going to take, and you only have one shot at it, unlike putting a doe and buck together. Also, it’s a surgical procedure so there is always the possibility of the sedative causing issues, or as you’ll read below, issues with recovery.
Next, I had some biosecurity questions. Since we did a couple procedures before the A.I. began we had 30+ does come through before my does came in. Many of these does are used for embryo transfers. I did see a couple with noticeable CL lumps and for someone that tests and is biosecurity conscious this made be cringe. I did have my hands on almost every doe (helping prep or in recovery) so looked them over for obvious open sores and things like sore mouth but didn’t see anything. I brought my does in at the last minute so they never went in the holding pens and I moved them out as soon as they could stand. Obviously, the items the vet used were sterilized and I kept a close eye on anything else that touched the does. Paranoid? Maybe.
Of the three ladies I took two had no issues. One had very minor swelling that was gone within 24 hours and the second didn’t have any swelling at all.
The third developed a pouch that was treated for infection under local veterinarian care. Because we thought she had an infection and I didn’t push for further investigation (three veterinarians said it was most likely an infection) I ended up losing the doe. As you can imagine, I have been devastated by this. During her post we found that a loop of small intestine was pulled through the abdominal wall lining and she had a bowel obstruction at the point of incision.
So, what are my feelings about A.I.? I don’t really know. I would love to see semen collection and A.I. benefit our breed the way it has benefitted other goat breeds. It changed the landscape of breeding Boers completely; but I also have firsthand knowledge of the worst that can happen. I’ve been told complications like I experienced are rare, it’s just very hard to look beyond losing a doe because of a choice I made. On the flip side, many of us also know how quickly a seemingly healthy pregnancy can turn into pregnancy toxemia, or how easily birth can take a bad turn; to breed a doe in general is also a choice we make for them. There are many risks, and also many rewards when it comes to breeding animals.
I also think there are things that could have been done to prevent my loss had I known more. First, let me be clear, I do not blame anyone for my loss. Any time you have a procedure done there is risk and I take full responsibility for that.
In future I would make sure the doe is securely tied on the gurney - this doe slipped in the gurney during the procedure; or if something like that does happen, know to take the doe in immediately for an ultrasound. If a doe is acting off, push for an investigation instead of assuming infection; take them off food earlier – I put my girls in stalls a full 24 hours in advance but their rumens were still very full; the doe I lost was the smallest of the three and the veterinarian actually commented on how large her rumen was during the procedure. My goats were only on pasture and hay at the time so yes, their rumens were large, even after a 24 hour fast. I would also only take larger does. The doe I lost weight wise wasn’t far off the other two, but she did have a much more compact body style. Last, if something seems off, trust your gut, no one knows your goats the way you do.
A.I. is not what I would call a cheap experience. However, for those like me that want to bring new bloodlines into your herd and don’t have access to a super high-quality buck, or can’t afford a super high-quality buck, this is a good way to bring in better quality genetics without breaking the bank.
Considering A.I. is not something to be taken lightly but even with my loss I can’t say with 100% certainty I would not try it again. I had the worst that could happen, actually happen, however, I also believe (ultrasounds have not been done yet) I have two pregnant does that should produce higher quality kids than I would be able to breed at home.