A five day course in artificial breeding (AB) training was quite the experience for Alex Lond.

I have gained a whole new wealth of respect for AB technicians this year, after completing a gruelling first week of AB training through Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC). Despite having a few friends who have completed the course warning me that it was not easy, I was still ill-equipped for what was to come – a skill and technique like nothing I have ever attempted before.

Day one consisted of practicing on artificial cows; a relatively new installment by LIC to prepare trainees for the real thing. Well, let me tell you now that an artificial cow’s back passage is every bit as tight as the real thing, and despite completing the recommended hand exercises in the weeks leading up to the training, I immediately felt the blood draining from my arm as my fingers went numb and I made numerous attempts to grab a cervix which I was almost certain was not there. This was despite the tutor reassuring me that it was, because he could see it through the glass window on the side of the ‘cow’. “Liar”, I muttered as I continuously tried the ‘swooping’ motion needed to cup the cervix safely enough to insert my inseminator. I won’t take you through the numerous stages after you’ve managed to locate it but let me just tell you this – it is by far the hardest thing I have ever had to do, including my 20,000-word dissertation at the end of my degree.

Day two: the real thing. How, I repeatedly asked myself throughout the day, have I been milking cows for so long and yet know absolutely nothing about the reproductive system which is essential to their own and therefore my job?

“It’ll be so much easier thanks to your practice day yesterday,” our tutors reassured us. So, gloves and lube at the ready, we stepped forward to our designated cows, moved swishing tails aside, and attempted to put into action what we had learned on day one. Clearly having calved one too many cows, my left hand went straight in the vulva and I was immediately confused to not be met with a foot or at least a head. Then, remembering where I was, I gently (but swiftly) removed my hand and glanced over my shoulder to check that no one saw… Smirks from a couple of tutors said otherwise, but I think for the most part I got away with it. Now safely in the right hole and feeling around for the cervix, I realised the one big difference between the artificial cows and the real thing – all I was feeling now was a whole load of yesterday’s silage and grain, and definitely no sign of a cervix.

This confused/perplexed state carried on all the way through my first three days of training, but then suddenly on the fourth day something clicked. I had a eureka moment and my swooping hand grasped the cervix easily at first attempt while my inseminator reached the ideal position. My goodness, this actually was the best feeling in the world. The rest of the day flew by, and I managed to inseminate enough cows at the right position to pass the first week and secure myself a spot in week two in April. “Fantastic!” my tutors exclaimed to those of us who had passed. “Now you’ve just got to double that number of cows and get your positioning right every single time and you’ll pass week two easily.” Brilliant. Wish me luck…

  • (This is Alex’s last column as a farmerfor now, she is moving on in the industry… maybe to inseminating cows and other exciting roles? Thanks, Alex, for your entertaining columns – Ed.)