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Semen Suppliers Maintain Rigorous Testing Programs

Boar semen suppliers respond to Top 10 Questions to Ask Your Boar Stud an unofficial survey by National Hog Farmer. Ask pork producers who buy semen what their biggest concern is and most would probably say the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) status of the boar stud. All respondents to our question, What is the health status of the boars in your stud? indicate they only use boars

Boar semen suppliers respond to “Top 10 Questions to Ask Your Boar Stud” — an unofficial survey by National Hog Farmer.

Ask pork producers who buy semen what their biggest concern is and most would probably say the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) status of the boar stud.

All respondents to our question, “What is the health status of the boars in your stud?” indicate they only use boars that come from herds that test negative for PRRS.

Half the group conducts serological monitoring for the PRRS virus once a month. Danbred USA monitors boars every two weeks for PRRS and swine influenza virus as part of their regular pathogen-monitoring program. Genetiporc's Progenes stud is blood tested bi-weekly for PRRS using ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). Fox AI also reports conducting PRRS testing bi-monthly. (See “Semen Suppliers” on page 12 for boar stud location and contact information.)

At Lone Willow/USG AI Center, a veterinarian does “organized random” sampling, testing for PRRS weekly. Swine Genetics International Ltd. blood tests boars for PRRS every 60 days.

None of the boar studs vaccinate for PRRS. Two boar studs report no vaccinations for specific disease are given. One vaccinates for erysipelas only.

A second question asks about the boar stud biosecurity plan. Fifty percent of the semen suppliers surveyed say they follow a 60-day isolation period before introducing new boars into a stud. Some 25% report using a 30-day period. One supplier each uses an isolation period of 21, 45 and 50 days.

Newsham Hybrids (USA) Inc. biosecurity is centered on the fact that all boars come from a single, high-health production system in a remote area of southeastern Colorado, says company veterinarian Neil DeBuse. All company boars are PRRS negative.

TLC Boar Stud co-owner Roxi Thompson notes when evaluating a semen supplier, make sure there is a “veterinarian to veterinarian” health consultation between the herd of origin and the boar stud.

Biosecurity Measures

For biosecurity at Lone Willow, boars are housed in separate complexes of 30-60 boars each. Boars don't leave their pens for collection, eliminating the common semen collection room, says Lone Willow's owner Bruce Leman.

All of the semen suppliers surveyed have an emergency management plan, should the need arise to shut down operations. Darwin Reicks, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, MN, says the two PIC Gene Transfer Centers (Pork Storks I and Pork Storks II) he manages have written contingency agreements with nine other PIC Gene Transfer Centers housing 4,400 sires. Three are ISO 9002-certified.

He declares, “I feel this is one of the most important issues when choosing a semen source. If they have a concrete backup plan, they will be more likely to close the stud if there is a health concern.”

In PIC's case, if there is reason for suspicion of disease, the stud is closed immediately and will remain closed until clinical signs and serology test negative. In the contingency plan, all semen shipments are stopped. All customers are notified of the stud closure and all future orders are resourced from any of the 11 PIC-approved Gene Transfer Centers.

At Newsham, semen use level is at 80% of the production capacity of its one, company-owned boar stud. This way if semen becomes unusable, other studs in the same system have reserve capacity across the entire system.

Virtually all semen suppliers report using either a photometer or spectrophotometer separately or in combination to obtain sperm count in semen collections.

TLC Boar Stud and Dekalb Choice Genetics both use the Integrated Visual Optical System (IVOS) for semen analysis (see separate story). Says Dekalb's Ken Mathias, “We validated our IVOS system against our previous method — a spectrophotometer — and found that IVOS provided a 5% variability, where the spectrophotometer had a 25% variability in estimating sperm concentration.”

Compart's Boar Store uses a 10-point system (10 being the best) for ranking sperm motility and morphology. Samples scoring less than 7 are discarded. Boars with below average semen quality or young boars coming on line won't be added to the stud until they reach a score of 7.

Fox AI does morphologies on every boar before semen is cleared for sale: they are re-tested semi-annually.

On the question of storage life of semen, on average, suppliers say their semen extenders provide 5-7 days of storage life.

Genetiporc's Tom Spaeth stresses their extender contains three antibiotics to provide a broader spectrum of protection. Even though it is a 6-7-day extender, Genetiporc imposes a four-day expiration date. “Every collection is different, and we have found over extensive testing that on day 4 the average dose begins to deteriorate, so using that dose after day 4 can have various results.”

Most semen suppliers provide from 3 to 4.5 billion of sperm/dose. SGI provides 5 billion sperm/dose.

Among suppliers, opinions about the value of providing semen from individual boars versus pooled semen differ. Some suppliers sell only individual boar semen to maintain integrity of a single genetic line.

For commercial use, pooled semen seems to be preferred and reportedly provides higher conception rates and number born alive. Steve Kerns, IBS and Multigene USA, says no semen is pooled.

Regarding the age of semen when it arrives on the farm, most suppliers indicate they deliver semen shipments within six hours of collection. Geographical distance dictates some shipments arrive the next day after collection.

For new, next-day customers, TLC Boar Stud co-owner Jeff Thompson ships a “phantom” cooler containing microwave popcorn and a temperature recorder to the destination first. This allows him to investigate the route the shipment took so the real order can be packed with the right amount of gel packs for hot or cold weather.

Fox AI has on-line semen and supply ordering.

Top-indexing, performance-tested boars are used by semen suppliers responding to whether genetically superior boars are selected for entry into the studs. Average life of boars at stud is 18 months. Annual replacement rates average 60-70%.

Third-Party Analysis for Semen Suppliers

Internal audits are fairly common amongst boar semen suppliers. External audits are less prevalent.

The accompanying “Top 10 Questions To Ask Your Boar Stud” is a start. If a stud can answer your questions satisfactorily, it shows they have addressed those concerns, says Gary Althouse, DVM, University of Illinois veterinary reproductive specialist.

Althouse believes the main reason third-party audits are not performed is simply because stud managers don't know where to turn to have one done.

Althouse's audit can objectively review sperm motility, sperm concentration, dose volume, total sperm dose, acrosome head integrity and a range of sperm morphology traits.

He also can perform a microbiological analysis, checking closely for bacterial growth.

“Bacteria can be a pretty big killer of sperm,” remarks Althouse. “The ironic thing is the bacteria that are identified in the semen do not necessarily cause disease in pigs. But if the bacteria are resistant to the antibiotic preservatives in the extender, that semen extender becomes a good culture media for growth of the bacteria. The bacterial overgrowth then leads to the demise of the sperm,” he says.

The auditing service began as an outgrowth of Althouse's work with his boar stud clientele, spreading by word of mouth.

Turnaround time is two days for a normal audit of submitted semen samples. Microbiology takes four to seven days. A general semen analysis runs $25/sample, microbiology adds to the cost.

All audits include an interpretation of the results and identifies weaknesses that need to be addressed.

After five years of offering the service through the University of Illinois, Althouse is relocating his service to the University of Pennsylvania. In July, he will serve as associate professor of swine production medicine and reproduction in the Department of Clinical Studies at the New Bolton Center.

He can be reached there at 382 West Street Road, Kennett Square, PA 19348. Phone (610) 444-5800, fax (610) 925-8123 or e-mail [email protected].

Semen Suppliers

Semen suppliers who participated in our unofficial survey include:

Birchwood Genetics Inc., West Manchester, OH; (800) 523-2536; e-mail [email protected].

Compart's Boar Store, Nicollet, MN; (877) 441-2627;

Danbred USA, Dorchester, NE; (402) 761-3599;

Dekalb Choice Genetics, St. Louis, MO; (866) 237-8744.

Fairmont Artificial Breeders, Fairmont, MN; (507) 235-3270; e-mail [email protected].

Fox AI, Ltd., Oskaloosa, IA; (888) 324-7883;

Genesis GTC, Franklin, KY; (800) 325-3398; e-mail [email protected].

Genetiporc, Morris, MN; (320) 589-1566;

Geode GTC, Burlington, IA; (319) 392-2000; e-mail [email protected].

International Boar Semen, Eldora, IA; (800) 247-7877;

Lean Value Sires, New Carlisle, OH; (800) 972-8766;

Lone Willow USG/United Custom Collect, Roanoke, IL; (309) 923-7134;

Multigene USA, Clearfield, IA; (877) 378-7675;

Newsham Hybrids (USA) Inc., Colorado Springs, CO; (719) 630-3200;

PIC USA, Franklin, KY; (800) 325-3398;

Pipestone Artificial Breeders, Pipestone, MN; (507) 825-5206; e-mail [email protected].

Pork Storks, Sleepy Eye, MN; (507) 794-5147 and Rushmore, MN; (507) 394-2322;

Sleezer's Fertility Center, Aurelia, IA; (888) 809-5321.

Swine Genetics International Ltd., Cambridge, IA; (515) 383-4386; e-mail [email protected].

TLC Boar Stud, Harmony, MN; (888) 567-4852; e-mail [email protected].

This supplier listing — along with hyperlinks to Web sites and e-mail addresses — is available online at