Frozen Semen - The why's, wherefore's, pro's and con's
Written and presented at the ApHC 2001 World Show, Fort Worth, Texas by Jos Mottershead
Frozen semen advantages include:
There are no requirements to schedule shipments of semen to fit the mare's ovulation time;
The market for semen is global, as there is little limitation on duration of delivery time;
There is no requirement for the stallion to be taken out of competition for breeding, or to have his competitive attitude possibly disrupted by being bred;
There is an "insurance factor" in case the stallion should become ill, die, or be unable for some other reason to fulfill live cover/cooled semen breeding commitments;
As the processing of frozen semen usually requires the involvement of a business that specializes in that processing, there tends to be better control over quality than is sometimes seen with
Not all stallions have semen that will freeze;
Mares require more intense estrus monitoring as frozen semen requires insemination within the 12 hours prior to or 6 hours following ovulation;
Conception rates for artificial insemination with frozen equine semen are on average a little lower than those seen with fresh or cooled semen;
To freeze semen is not initially as cheap as to prepare cooled semen, although in the long run it can be cheaper.
The Semen Freezing Process:
Semen is collected from the stallion in the same manner as collection for cooled transported semen use and is evaluated to establish total sperm numbers and motility levels. The semen is mixed
with a centrifugation extender, and the majority of the seminal plasma is removed following centrifugation. The resulting sperm pellet is resuspended at a known concentration in a freezing
extender, which contains a nutrient medium, cryopreservant and buffer. This mixture of sperm and extender is loaded into straws that are lowered in temperature by being exposed to liquid nitrogen
vapour for a set time period. After the completion of that timed period, the straws are plunged into the liquid nitrogen, from which they are subsequently removed and placed in a suitable storage
Semen may be marketed with a full live foal guarantee. If there is no proof however that the stallion has fertile frozen semen, or in the event that there is not a competent inseminator,
this may lead to excessive expense for the stallion and mare owner;
We generally recommend that semen be marketed with a live foal guarantee, but with a fixed number of insemination doses included in the stud fee (e.g. 3 doses), after which a "per straw"
charge is incurred by the mare owner. We also recommend that the frozen semen be proven fertile prior to marketing to the general public;
Semen may be sold completely on a "per straw" basis. This is however generally considered to be counter-productive as it leads to pressures being put on the inseminator to use as small a
number of straws as possible - quite often resulting in use of an insemination dose below the recommended minimum;
A breeding contract should have a clause included to determine what is to be done with straws held by the mare owner in excess of those required to establish pregnancy. This may lead to the
opportunity for the selling of a subsequent breeding at a lowered rate, thereby securing a stud fee that may not have been obtained otherwise, and which can serve as a financial benefit to
the mare owner.
Additional points with regards to the stallion:
Not all stallions' semen can be successfully frozen and thawed. Roughly 30% of stallions have semen that will be highly fertile post-thaw; 40% "average"; and 30% sub-fertile;
Attention to detail is required in all procedures involved in the freezing process. Any part of the process that is not carried out properly will result in a reduction in the number of sperm
capable of impregnating a mare. As there are many more steps in the freezing process than there are for preparing cooled semen, the potential for failure is proportionately greater and it is
unlikely that the average breeding farm will be able to perform the freezing;
Unless pregnancies have been achieved with frozen semen, there is really no reliable method to determine whether sperm have survived the freezing process in a manner able to get a mare
pregnant. Motility post-thaw does not indicate fertility;
As long as semen is properly maintained in a liquid nitrogen storage tank, the viability is believed to be nearly unlimited. (10,000 years has been suggested!). Pregnancies have resulted from
using semen that has been stored for ten to fifteen years. Pregnancies have not been achieved with semen that has been re-frozen once thawed.
Use of Frozen Semen in the Mare:
Mare owners should be aware that not all stallions have thawed-frozen semen that is fertile, and would be therefore well advised to ask stallions owners what the "first-cycle conception rate"
is, as well as the number of mares that have been bred using frozen semen;
Frozen semen may be shipped years ahead of the anticipated date of use, thereby avoiding the last-minute anxiety associated with cooled semen shipments, but it must be transported and stored
in a proper container.
A "Dry Shipper" is commonly used to transport frozen semen, which does not carry a "HazMat" designation and is therefore not a restricted commodity for carriers;
The mare must be monitored closely for impending ovulation and insemination must occur no more than 12 hours before or 6 hours after ovulation to be consistently successful;
Thawing protocols are simple - using hot water - but times and temperatures must be followed carefully;
Identification of the stallion whose semen is contained within the straw should be ensured prior to insemination taking place;
The insemination process is the same as is used with cooled or fresh semen;
Post-breeding monitoring should be carried out to ensure ovulation has occurred and that there is no fluid present in the uterus as a result of a persistent uterine inflammatory response (and
suitable treatment with oxytocin should take place if such fluid is present).
DNA typing of offspring with parentage verification is a normal requirement (as is common with cooled transported semen use) prior to issuance of registration documents;
Some breed registries issue an individual certificate for each semen straw, which must be returned with the AI certificate of breeding. In the event of the death of the stallion only the
number of certificates existing at the time of his death will be honoured, or in the event of the stallion's sale, this provides a distinct document of ownership relative to those semen
Consideration should be given to use of semen following the death or castration of the stallion. Generally market influence is regarded as being the controlling factor in these cases; (Additional comment made verbally at the time of the initial presentation:
It is worth considering that if a stallion owner has paid to have semen frozen and/or mares have been bred during the breeding season but subsequently lost the pregnancy after year's
end, if the use of frozen semen is limited by the Registry to the end of the year of the stallion's death, this will be likely to result in breeder discontent, possibly encourage fraud, and
really defeats one major advantage of frozen semen - that of "insurance". We therefore recommend that such a limitation not be imposed by a Registry).
Over-use of a stallion whose semen is frozen is no more likely than one whose semen is being offered cooled.