SHERIDAN — Artificial insemination is the introduction of semen into the female’s cervix by any method that is not intercourse. The commercial use of AI is as recent as 1937 but has lineage tracing back from the 17th century when Lazzaro Spallanzani, an Italian physiologist, discovered spermatozoa’s activation could be controlled by heating and cooling it, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
By 1933, Professor Ilya Ivanovich, a Soviet biologist, was hired to master AI in horses. He learned how to collect and inseminate horses, cattle, sheep and swine and began practicing on cattle in 1937. Now approximately 60% of the dairy cows in the U.S. are artificially inseminated, while Denmark, Holland and England statistics indicate 90% of their dairy cattle originate from AI.
These monumental stepping stones in biology are the foundations of how the Petzold and Brown families started their 4-H projects. From ages 10 to 17, the six children came together to start the process of artificially inseminating show goats after realizing the costs of breeding goats was unattainable for each child. To buy a decent buck, families have to drive to places like Texas, Oklahoma, California, Missouri and Oregon.
“We started AI because it’s really expensive to keep a buck goat for a year and you have to buy one around every three years,” said Elsa Petzold, the eldest of the group who spearheaded the project. “A good buck can cost you around $300 per goat, or you can buy AI semen straws from $10 to $30.”
The estimated savings of each family was $1,500 every three years per bred goat, which included traveling fees, the purchase of bucks, tending of bucks and other various costs. She noted that the estimated savings only accounted for one breed of a buck with which to breed.
After Elsa Petzold researched breeds and practices, she applied for and received a grant from the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce, which funded the entire AI process.
“We either pay for a single buck for three years or for four different breeds of semen in a can in the freezer,” said Melissa Petzold, 4-H goat superintendent and mother to three of the children involved. “Economically for these children, it’s a no-brainer.”
The children prep goats with hormones before insemination. The hormone is a controlled internal drug release, a developed technology that improves AI and synchronization results inserted into the vulva to adjust hormones. This helps indicate to the children the exact moment the goat goes into heat.
The 4-Hers practiced internal vaginal insemination on the goats, which causes less damage than other practices like intrauterine insemination, Elsa Petzold said.
The children inserted one to two separate shots in each goat on a winter day when it was -20 degrees Fahrenheit outside. XY chromosomes, also known as male swimmers, are faster but weaker than XX chromosomes, or female swimmers.
One of the trickiest aspects to artificial insemination is finding a warming point that gives each type of chromosome a fighting chance for viable breeding to sustain the 4-H participants for future projects. If the semen warms too fast and kills the XY swimmers each doe gives birth to two females and they cannot continue the purchased breed. If breeding results in only bucks, the same problem arises.
“The end goal is to create a gene pool,” Elsa Petzold said. “We want the three bucks bred into one doe and then bred back to this really nice golden ace buck, and then we’ll have put all of the older bloodlines back in.”
Melissa Petzold maintains that she hopes the children’s work will change the local goat market for the community.
“We hope everybody can come back and breed to an older bloodline that’s otherwise lost like the little spotted buck,” she said. “All that’s left are 10 straws left in circuit from 1983, otherwise his bloodlines are gone and they’re terribly missed and nobody realized they should have been keeping them in the market.”
It’s clear all six of the young showmen have experienced the circle of life through their 4-H projects. Each being present at the moment of conception, to bottle feeding their babies, to training their goat for show, the bond each child has formed with their goat is intimate.
“I think it’s fun because you learn more about their personalities. You get to be stronger at what you show and you learn from your mistakes since you’re involved in the process a little deeper,” Izak Brown said.
The children plan to begin artificially inseminating sheep next year along with goats and begin expanding their business to other showers in Sheridan County in hopes of creating an affordable, local program.