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Artificial Insemination of Poultry

John L. Skinner and Louis C. Arrington

North Central Regional Extension Publication #216
Sponsored by the Extension Services of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
This publication is offered as a guide for poultry hobbyists, aviculturists and others who breed ornamental fowl and want to use techniques commercial poultry breeders, particularly those in the turkey industry, have perfected to improve fertility.

When to Use Artificial Insemination

Chicken breeders may be disappointed when their better birds fail to reproduce. The birds may not mate because of shyness, physical limitations, lack of interest or social incompatibility. Unsatisfactory nutrition, age of breeders, management conditions, egg collection and holding practices, and incubation procedures can also influence production.

If birds do not reproduce when other conditions are adequate, artificial insemination may be the answer. It is relatively simple and can be used for many kinds of birds, but it requires practice and the proper equipment. It cannot, however, overcome poor management practices, poor health, genetic lethals or differences; nor will it halt early embryonic deaths.

Artificial insemination is more an art than a science. The procedure is not highly technical, but basic knowledge and appreciation of the birdís anatomy is necessary. Success depends largely on the patience and skill of the inseminator. Wild-bird and waterfowl breeders should practice first with some common poultry type; Cornish bantams would be an excellent choices.

Figure 1. These simple tools - glass eye cup, medicine dropper, 1 cc plastic syringe and glass rod - are all that is needed for artificial insemination of poultry and other birds if an assistant is present.

Equipment Needed

Artificial insemination equipment is simple. Figure 1 shows tools most often used when inseminating a small number of birds. Commercial operators may use more complicated equipment, including injection guns, collection aspirators and temperature-controlled semen containers. Figure 2 shows a one-operator stand useful for insemination.

The Male

For best results, the male used for artificial insemination:
  1. Must be mature, healthy and physically normal
  2. Must be sexually active. This is especially important in birds that have a limited season. Light stimulation may be used to control the season in some varieties.
  3. Must be tame, or at least not terrified when restrained or handled.
  4. Should be free from external parasites. Some parasites irritate the vent area, making male organ exposure difficult and painful to the bird.
  5. Should be kept apart from, but preferably in sight of, females.
  6. Should not be subjected to extreme temperatures or allowed to become overheated.

Figure 2. This stand lets one person collect semen and place it in the female. The male is held over the eye cup and the semen is discharged into it. The exposed oviduct of the female is placed over the glass tube which previously had semen placed in it. The operator depresses the rubber bulb with his foot to force the semen into the oviduct.

The Female

For best results, the female used for artificial insemination:
  1. Must be in production, or she may be injured.
  2. Must not have a hard-shelled egg in the lower part of her oviduct, so the sperm can move easily to the area where it unites with the ova.

Figure 3. Note position of the operator's right hand. The white area between the thumb and forefinger is semen flowing from this male chicken.

Procedure (Male)

Experts have developed several ways to hold males for semen collection. Techniques may require one or two persons. The following two-operator method works well and reduces fright or feather damage to the bird.

Hold the male with his head toward the operator and with the keel lying in the palm of the left hand. Secure the right leg between the first and second fingers. To make larger birds more comfortable, hold the left leg between the second and third fingers.

Stroke the back from midpoint toward the tail with the right hand, massaging the abdomen from below with the fingers of the left hand. After several vigorous strokes, transfer the right hand from the back to a position where the thumb and forefinger can apply pressure to either side of the vent. Simultaneously, apply pressure to the abdomen with the fingers of the left hand.

This normally extends the copulatory organ and causes a flow of semen, as shown in Figure 3. A slight milking action may increase semen flow. An assistant should catch the semen in an eyecup or other small smooth-edges vessel. In some instances, especially with waterfowl, the copulatory organ may not extend completely. Semen collection is still possible, however, as it flows over the surface of the partially everted vent.

Points to Remember

  • Stimulate males and collect semen immediately after catching. Holding a male, even a tame one, for only a few minutes may interfere with collection.
  • Successful semen collection usually results from an experienced operator and an experienced subject.
  • First attempts at "working" inexperienced males often produce unsatisfactory results. Some males pass feces or urates as they discharge semen. Try to collect only semen; contaminated semen usually produces poor results. Withhold water and feed four to six hours before collection to lessen chances for contamination.
  • The volume of semen discharged varies from bird to bird. Most males produce between 0.1 cc and 0.44 cc during each successful collection.
  • Individual males vary considerably in time needed to replenish their semen supply. Normally, however, you can collect semen every two to four days without harming the birds.
  • Use the semen as soon as possible. It can be held one or two hours without great loss in fertilizing capacity, or longer under controlled conditions. Donít allow the semen to dehydrate and keep it below the body temperature of the male that produced it.

Procedure (Female)

When handling and exposing the female, remember the hen is delicate and must be treated gently. Hold and stimulate her in much the same way as the male. As the operator applies pressure after the preliminary stroking and massage, the vent exerts and an orifice appears on the left side. It may be a round rosette or a cleft or skin overfold. This orifice, shown in Figure 4, is the oviductís terminal opening. An assistant should place the semen ľ to 1 inch deep into this opening with a 1 cc syringe, a medicine dropper or similar device.

When making individual mating - one male with one female - use the entire semen collection. Various studies show, however, that good results can be achieved with as little as 0.05 cc of semen per insemination.

Relax pressure on the femaleís body as soon as possible after insemination so the oviduct can return to its normal position, drawing the semen inward.

Figure 4. Note position of hands and the exposed terminal end of the oviduct of this female chicken.

Points to Remember

  • How often insemination is needed for satisfactory results varies somewhat among females. It may be best to inseminate more often at the onset of production, but once some eggs have been fertilized, once-a-week insemination is enough to maintain a satisfactory level.
  • Fertile eggs can normally be obtained 48 to 96 hours after insemination and up to three weeks thereafter. The percentage of fertile eggs from a flock begins to drop between five and seven days and usually will be unsatisfactory beyond 10 days.
  • Turkeys remain fertile longer than some other birds. Geese show considerable individual variation.

When to Consider Artificial Insemination

  1. To breed from birds of extreme body conformation, for example those with very broad bodies and/or short legs - conditions which hinder natural mating. The Cornish is an example of this type of bird.
  2. To breed from birds with a lot of loose feathering so you wonít have to trim the feathers, e.g. Cochins.
  3. To breed from injured birds, for example those whose toes have been frozen or wings or legs broken, etc.
  4. To breed from older males when stiffened joints and other maladies of advanced age prevent natural mating.
  5. To make better use of equipment. For example, with this method you can use one pen of females and one pen of males to secure several different mating combinations. You can also carry over unused males rather than having one pen for each mating.
  6. To mate incompatible individuals.
  7. One male can fertilize more females than with natural mating.
  8. You can initiate fertility in several females at the same time. With natural mating, certain females may be unattended for several days.
  9. Prevents over-active males from abusing females.
  10. Prevents certain males from ignoring some females, as often happens under conditions of natural mating.
Sponsored by the Extension services of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, in cooperation with ES-USDA.

This publication is available from your Wisconsin county Extension office or from:
    Agricultural Bulletin Building
    1535 Observatory Drive
    Madison, Wisconsin 53706

Editors, before publicizing, contact the Agricultural Bulletin Building to determine availability.

John l. Skinner is professor, Department of Poultry Science, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison and poultry and small-animal specialist, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Wisconsin-Extension.

Louis C. Arrington is professor, Department of Poultry Science, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison and poultry specialist, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Wisconsin-Extension.
For single copies of this and other North Central Regional Extension Publications, write to:
    Publications Office, Cooperative Extension Service, in care of the University Listed on your left for your state.

If you want information about ordering quantities of this or other Regional Publications, write or call the coordinating office for the
    NCR Educational Materials Project
    B-10 Curtiss Hall
    Iowa State University
    Ames, Iowa 50011

Programs and activities of the Cooperative Extension Service are available to all potential clientele without regard to race, color, sex, national origin, or handicap.

In Cooperation with NCR Educational Materials Project

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Cooperative Extension Services of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and South Dakota. Charles F. Koval, Director, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706
North Central region Publication Extension No. 216
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