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This past season I had my first encounter with an animal that "doesn't ship well" / "has bad semen". It forced me to re-evaluate some details of what I was previously doing, and in conclusion, change my ways a little, even when dealing with a "normal" horse. It seems to work well enough that I decided I'd toss it into the public arena for what it may be worth.

I didn't guess the thermometer at right that it would prove so useful - my only thought at the time was to calibrate the more convenient dial thermometers, which, just as I had heard, are often inaccurate. The key thing is that it reads from 25 - 55 C. in tenths of degrees.

Skipping the tedious details, the problem animal was a sensitivity to temperature shock. Exposing his semen to sudden temperature changes in excess of roughly one half of one degree Centigrade will cause surprisingly serious damage. There may be nicer ways to approach the problem, but I needed an immediate solution, and was not at all inclined to spend a fortune on it. Some types of "environmental cabinets/chambers" might be help considerably, but cost on one that would work for this purpose is, at least to me, downright prohibitive. So, here is how it played out.


In my case, a one-man operation, the A-V stands by perhaps as many as ten minutes after final prep, and the collection bottle will cool considerably. The more convenient practice of using one (pre-warmed) insulating sleeve was not working well enough for the needs in this instance. I always set up to collect into a whirlpak inside a bottle, which probably buffers a little, since only a smallish area of the semen will directly contact the bottle, (through the bag) but even so, this was a very likely problem area.

I needed to provide much better insulation. An afternoon spent with scissors, sewing machine, a puffy warm blanket, and a ripped up old hood produced the outer sleeve. There are maybe half a dozen layers of blanket down toward the bottom end, progressively thinner toward the top, to allow (reasonably) easy insertion of the original sleeve/bottle/A-V.
It takes quite a while to warm it up through and through, but it will hold a temperature for quite a while. On the down side, it is far too unwieldy for collecting, and has to be stripped off for action - it just keeps the inner one warm until then.

This way, on a fairly chilly day, the semen will measure around 36 point 2 to 36 point 5 centigrade upon removal from the bottle. So, even with these precautions, some uncontrolled cooling has already occurred. At that point, it seems questionable whether it should be subjected to re-warming - a little dubious to make it ride a thermal roller-coaster like that, and it would either have to warm very gradually in the incubator, (too much time) or suddenly in a waterbath (completely out of the question with this animal).

Wracking my brain for other ways of tightening the procedure it became apparent that there is no way to be certain the cylinder the semen is first poured into is *exactly* the same temperature as the semen. Air temperature in an incubator is one thing, the actual temperature of glass in it is only an assumption, then it is removed into open air and handled, where the original temperature may change significantly. Also, it is impractical to try adjusting its initial temperature to match that of the semen, a possible variable, and when speed is essential. Eliminating that pour from the bag eliminates the risk of temperature shock at that point, and eliminates some excess "handling" too, but presents a new problem - getting *only* the desired amount from the bag. (Incidentally, using a non-spermicidal syringe rather than a cylinder is marvelously convenient, but at a price - some of those little guys are torn to pieces as they are sucked in and plungered out.)

The "template" tacticians argue the necessity of measuring collection volume largely to monitor the stud - log it in, have statistics, etcetera. I did initially accept those ideas, but now I wonder. What heroic intervention are we going to perform, exactly, in case we *do* measure an average decrease in his volume? Psychoanalysis? (I am assuming the horse gets an occasional checkup anyway, maybe a little bloodwork and a listen to his heart, stuff like that.) Also, and more to the point, aren't we going to *notice* that there is less in the bag than there used to be, and particularly, less left over after what we need has been measured out? Retrospectively, I begin to seriously question the benefit of that approach. Finally, if we simply *must* know volume to the last cc, the amounts poured into extender are known, and the leftover can be measured later - add it up, and you have the total volume, without needing that initial/extra pour.

The semen being rather viscous, it is risky business to pour directly from the somewhat floppy collection bag into a cylinder of extender - more than wanted may come out in a big "gloop".
In this case the top of the bag is already folded over from being in the bottle, and a little "spout" can be formed neatly on the flat side. Then, pinching it into a narrow "V", the intended amount can be added accurately to the extender.

And no, the hand is *not* filthy, just a shadowy evironment, and a lot of digital gain to brighten the picture.



But now, out of the trenches and over the top. Getting both the extender, and especially the glass above it to the exact temperature of the semen, and quickly, is a real challenge. Considering that the semen must run down the glass whatever distance before it reaches the extender, clearly the *exact* temperature of the glass is crucial with this animal.

Probably safer to get the extender to 98/99F for a while in hopes that will dissolve completely - I have been told that it can go as high as 105F without being ruined, although this has to be weighed against some pretty firm instructions to *not* overheat it, even a little. In any case, the extender will require some temperature adjustments.


Working with two waterbaths, 98F, 120F, and a large pan of icewater, the temperature of the extender in a cylinder can be quickly adjusted to the same temperature as the semen is at that moment. The temperature will "creep" a bit after the cylinder comes out - "quenching" in the relatively neutral 98F bath just prior to reaching target temp controls this to a "degree" - no pun intended.

Every moment the glass is out of the incubator its temperature is changing. Faster readings are possible with the thermometer sitting in a short broad based cylinder in the 98F waterbath. The mercury will be close to extender/semen temp, so there is very little waiting.


The glass will probably be colder above the line of the extender, as it was out while pouring and checking/adjusting temperature in it. Placing a bit of Saran wrap over the top of the cylinder and turning it upside down warms the glass to roughly the temperature of the extender.
The cooler glass will take some warmth out of the extender, so if it has stabilized at maybe one degree warmer than the semen prior to flipping it over, it will usually check right "in the zone" afterwards - hopefully a teensy bit on the high side, anticipating one final flip.
If on target then, (maybe 1/2 - 3/4 a degree over semen temp) one last flip for warm glass, the semen can now be added, and the worries and cares are over for that mix. (I prefer to mix each bag or vial individually, as even when gently sloshing a large amount back and forth in a bigger cylinder, the semen will not reliably distribute evenly, with risk that one dose will be so rich as to starve them in storage, while another may contain very few.)

While none of this has addressed the question of *why* this animal would be so sensitive, it did make it possible to get him through the season settling all but one mare, the majority with just one shipment. Phew! I'll just let a professional stuntman handle that in the future.

Mainly, it has made me a little bit better when dealing with an "easy" animal - even if the non-viable percentage is acceptably small, there will be those ones that don't travel as they should. Tighter temperature control noticeably reduces the numbers of "walking wounded" in the product.

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