The practice of semen collection and artificial insemination has opened many doors for beef producers.
David Jensen, owner of Hawkeye Breeders Service, Inc., Adel, Iowa, has witnessed lots of new opportunities with the technology advances.
His grandparents, Lloyd and Doris Jungmann, started a semen collection business back in 1969.
Lloyd initially worked for Iowa Breeders Service when the industry was using a milk extender that did not keep semen alive for long periods of time.
He realized that adding a buffer/citrate extender was needed. This product would allow the semen to be stored for a longer time. He capitalized on the “new” technology when he started his own company.
“He grasped on to the process of freezing the semen for longer storage and longer viability,” said Jensen.
Without facilities, Hawkeye Breeders Service brought a mobile collection and evaluation lab to farm sites.
Lloyd used a pickup camper.
“He was set up like a lab, and he’d go to various farmers and collect for herd bulls for them, and process the semen back at his initial location in Des Moines,” Jensen said.
From 1969 until the late 1970s, Lloyd continued to collect, process, freeze and distribute bull semen using the mobile lab.
In the late 1970s, Hawkeye Breeders Service partnered with a farmer east of Des Moines that had stud facilities.
“Customers had bulls that they wanted to collect larger volumes of semen on,” said Jensen. “That led to the next phase of the business – actually collecting semen at the facility, and on farms as well.”
By 1983, with business increasing rapidly, Lloyd expanded to serve a growing export market. He purchased land east of Des Moines, the current location of Hawkeye Breeders Service.
Jensen joined the operation with his father and grandfather in the 1990s. They had four mobile labs, and were conducting a lot of on-farm services. The trend, though, was moving toward stud facilities where bulls could be kept free of disease, and regular collection could occur.
By the early 2000s, the business still conducted on-farm services, but Hawkeye Breeder Services focused on housing the bulls at their own facility.
“We concentrate more on the in-house type of collection now,” Jensen said. “We actually do quite a bit of semen export – mostly dairy, but some beef – all around the world.”
While there are larger commercial semen collection businesses, Hawkeye Breeder Services is the largest custom semen collection facility – with about 300 bulls on site.
“We don’t own any of the bulls we work with,” he said. “We strictly collect for individual owners that have individual collection needs for their bulls.”
The Adel, Iowa-facility offers cattle breeders the opportunity to develop partnerships or maintain full or partial-ownership of bulls.
“As breeders become more business savvy, they have various options,” he said.
Bulls may return to their home farm or they may remain at Hawkeye Breeder Services for many years.
Bulls that are providing semen only for domestic use do not have the same level of health requirements as those whose semen is sent outside the United States. They may be shipped back to the home farm, if they are not likely to return to the facility again.
Bull semen that receives “Certified Semen Services” certification, can be sent to all 50 states and some foreign countries, including Argentina and Mexico.
For European countries, very strict and well-monitored export/import criteria must be met. In general, bulls that provide semen to these markets will remain in the facility for their lifetime.
“Our facility is inspected multiple times a year to make certain we’re following EU protocol,” he said. “Those bulls have to be in our facility a certain number of days. They have to pass batteries of tests, and prove they are negative for diseases before they are allowed into an EU collection housing facility.”
In many cases, these bulls came from very good progeny, with high value EPD-potential based on parentage. They sometimes come into the facility at weaning.
The fee for EU certification can vary from $800 to $1,900. With that amount of investment by the cattle breeder, they generally want to keep the bull at the facility.
Hawkeye Breeder Services continues to operate two mobile labs and provide collection services at farms throughout Midwest.
From February through June, the company sends Isaiah Shnurman and John Haub from western Kansas to Missouri, to Illinois, on to Minnesota, Nebraska and up to South Dakota. Tom Becker provides on-farm collection services in North Dakota, and Kevin and Sheila Jensen provide a satellite location in Kansas.
The technicians collect bull semen, add antibiotics, dilute with an extender product, and cool the product to maximize the fertility of the semen. The semen is transported and stored in liquid nitrogen tanks.
The mobile labs include a microscope and more equipment to determine the number of units collected, and the motility of the semen.
The product is then taken back to Adel for processing and long-term storage. The Iowa-based operation includes stress testing and multiple straw evaluations to make certain the semen maintains high quality.
“They pay a mileage and per unit premium to have us come to their facility to avoid the hassle of loading bulls on a trailer, and getting all of the interstate health papers to get the bulls to our facility,” Jensen said.
Hawkeye Breeders Service then provides semen shipping to the farm-of-origin’s customers.
The facility has 65 large storage tanks that hold millions of straws.
“We have quite a lot of semen storage. That helps out our customers, who may not have a semen tank to hold all of the semen they collect. We store the semen for them in a cold static state, and they pay a nominal fee,” said Jensen. “We have customers that have hundreds of thousands of units in storage with us.”
Requests come in constantly for units from various bulls. Shipments are sent out twice daily. Semen for exporting is brought to Chicago for customs inspections, and must include the correct paperwork.
For some breeding operations, using the mobile lab means they can collect a useable amount of units from a large number of bulls to increase their genetic pool.
“If cattle breeders want to cast a wider net on their genetic pool, there’s no use in trucking 15 head for 400-500 units per head,” Jensen pointed out. “It makes more sense to use the mobile unit and work with the cattle breeder at their farm or ranch.”
With the development of a quality controlled and monitored bull semen collection infrastructure, cattle breeders have important tools to keep moving the beef industry ahead.
“It’s a really interesting business,” said Jensen. “It has been a fascinating business to be that intertwined with cattle breeding and a lot of the breeders’ various programs.”