Kathy White stands with her cows in Gold Hill. White is a cattle artificial inseminator in the Rogue Valley. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

What's Love Got To Do With It?

A row of pregnant cattle munches happily on alfalfa, and there's no bull in sight.

How did these Black Angus heifers come to be expecting?

Meet Kathy White, Sams Valley resident and mother of four. She's about one-tenth the size of a bull, but with small, nimble hands and a gentle touch, White artificially inseminates cows and heifers across Southern Oregon with the semen of some of the most handsome bulls in the world.

"I have very small hands, and I have yet to have a cow say 'thank you,' " she quips.

White, a city girl from Ventura County, Calif., started working on a ranch in Cave Junction at age 23 because she was fond of horses and wanted to learn about raising cattle.

"My boss said, 'You should learn artificial insemination if you want to work with ranch animals,' " White recalls. "I said, 'It's not very ladylike.' "

Despite her demur, White later attended a three-day artificial insemination class and so began what is now a more than 20-year career impregnating cattle.

"My parents are so proud," she jokes.

Cattle are the most commonly artificially inseminated animals. Horses, pigs, goats, sheep and poultry also go under the semen gun for the sake of genetic diversity.

"There are some super fantastic bulls in the world," says Shelby Filley, regional livestock specialist at the Southern Oregon Research & Extension Center.

"They can't get around to all the cows, but through freezing the semen, it can be distributed."

Some small farmers also use artificial insemination, so that they don't have to keep bulls on the premises, Filley says.

Livestock owners can select the semen they want through a sales representative, a catalogue or on the Internet.

The catalogues feature photos of the professional sires and what their offspring would be expected to weigh.

A choice Black Angus bull would produce calves with a low birth weight, smooth muscle through the front end, long and deep bodied, feet all facing the right way and thick muscles, White says.

The semen is kept in a plastic straw-like container inside a tank of liquid nitrogen and usually delivered by a company sales representative or by FedEx.

Some livestock owners artificially inseminate their animals. The extension center in Roseburg offers classes on how to do it.

Other cattle owners call on the likes of White and Jennifer Kennedy, who also provides artificial insemination in Southern Oregon.

White inseminates hundreds of cattle a year. She charges $45 to inseminate a cow and $5 for every subsequent cow on the same visit. Semen typically costs about $15 to $20 a straw or more, depending on the bull.

"We used a bull whose semen cost $200," says White, who artificially inseminates her own herd of Black Angus cattle. "I had a client who paid $500 a straw. I usually don't want them to tell me how much it cost until I'm finished."

Insemination should happen 12 hours after the cow is in "standing heat," meaning she's ready to mate.

Artificial insemination probes deeper into the reproductive tract than a bull would and releases less semen. The semen also has a shorter lifespan because it was frozen.

If the insemination was done properly, the cow has a 90 percent chance of being pregnant about 12 hours later.

To inseminate an animal, White must keep it as still as possible. The animal is often placed in a squeeze chute, a cage-like device that holds it in place.

"It's designed so cows don't get hurt," White says. "You can use it to give vaccinations or to treat pink eye. It's just a way to hold her still so she doesn't hurt herself."

White has to act quickly from the moment the semen is dethawed. Wearing a long, plastic glove that covers her entire left arm, she probes the animal with her hand to find its cervix.

She uses her left hand because cows tend to ovulate on the right side, so when she shoots the sperm inside it flows to the right.

The straw is then loaded into a metal insemination gun, which pushes the semen out of the straw into the animal.

Sometimes the cows aren't accommodating.

On one occasion, a Black Angus heifer kicked manure up into White's mouth as she was chatting with its owner.

"I couldn't wipe it off on my shoulders because they were covered with manure," she recalls. She looked up apologetically at the owner and said, "'I'm sorry, I have to spit.' You have to be polite."

Share This Story