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Commercial Aspects of Sexed Semen

by Troy Smith, field editor, for Angus Journal

George Seidel contends that sex is the most important genetic trait. The Colorado State University researcher and professor emeritus is talking about gender. For 10 years, sexed semen has been commercially available, making it possible for managers of artificial insemination (AI) programs to choose the gender of a cow’s next calf.

George Seidel “If you do everything right, pregnancy rates are pretty good — about the same as with conventional semen,” says George Seidel of using gender-sorted semen, “but you have to do everything right.”

Seidel spoke during the Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle (ARSBC) Workshop hosted Aug. 29-30 in Manhattan, Kan., reviewing the development and commercialization of sexed semen technology. He told the audience that with additional improvement to that technology, to increase fertility, sexed semen could make conventional unsorted semen obsolete.

Currently, the purity of gender-sorted semen is near 95%. Because the one-at-a-time sorting of sperm cells is a slow process, the cost of sexed semen remains relatively high. Adding to the cost is the fact that sorting damages more cells than does conventional collection and freezing of semen. A typical dose of conventional semen used for AI contains roughly 20 million sperm, while a single dose of sexed semen contains about two million sperm — a compromise between cost and fertility.

“The cost of sexed semen is about $15 per dose higher,” explained Seidel, “but the biggest cost is lower fertility.”

Some people have promoted the idea of doubling the number of sexed sperm per dose to four million. Seidel says doubling the sperm dose does not increase fertility significantly, but it does increase the cost.

Pregnancy rates following insemination with sexed semen typically are lower than with conventional semen. However, Seidel says following procedures to the letter and using excellent technique has resulted in pregnancy rates near those achieved with AI using conventional semen.

“If you do everything right, pregnancy rates are pretty good — about the same as with conventional semen,” says Seidel, “but you have to do everything right.”

Seidel believes fertility of sexed semen will continue to improve. In fact, he believes advancements in the technology will result in higher fertility with sexed semen than with unsexed semen. That has already happened with sheep.

The sexing process already sorts out dead and non-viable sperm cells. With a little more technological tweaking, fertility is likely to be further improved. Seidel notes that, at any given time, one or the other gender is always more valuable, so he is confident of demand for the product. So sexed semen might crowd conventional semen out of the marketplace. For that to happen, though, Seidel believes sexing costs will have to be lower.

To listen to Seidel’s presentation or to view his PowerPoint, visit the Newsroom at Compiled by the Angus Journal editorial team, the site is made possible through sponsorship by the Beef Reproduction Task Force.

The 2017 ARSBC Symposium was hosted by the Task Force and Kansas State University Research & Extension. Next year’s symposium will be Aug. 29-30 in Ruidoso, New Mexico.

Editor's Note: This article was written under contract or by staff of the Angus Journal, an Angus Media publication. To request reprint permission and guidelines, contact Shauna Rose Hermel, editor, at 816-383-5270.