(STILLWATER) - The good genes of Western bulls are strengthening cattle herds around the world.
Reproduction Enterprises Inc. in Stillwater collects bull semen, packs it in liquid nitrogen and sells it to ranchers in countries from Mexico to South Africa. REI is the only certified bull semen processing center in the state and one of 37 such companies operating in 23 states.
The company, which opened in 1978, is trying to expand its sales overseas. REI recently passed a Chinese inspection and has closed a deal with Vietnam, which is working to improve its dairy and cattle stock.
Owner and general manager Les Hutchens said one plastic straw of semen, which is usually enough to impregnate a cow, can range in price from $2 to as much as $1,000. The most expensive semen comes from championship stock.
About 70 percent of the dairy heifers and 10 percent of beef cattle in this country are created through artificial insemination, said Dr. Gordon Doak, president of the National Association of Animal Breeders in Columbia, Mo.
Its cheaper for American dairy farmers to use artificial insemination because it takes years to determine which cows will breed the best milk producers, Doak said. Beef ranchers use the technology because it's hard to tell when their cattle, spread across miles of pasture land, are in heat.
The rodeo industry uses artificial insemination to breed bulls for their bucking ability.
Other countries want American bull semen because U.S. breeds, particularly the Holstein dairy cow, can produce more milk than other breeds, Doak said.
Artificial insemination of cattle began in the 1930s. The international market began in the 1970s and continued to expand through the 1990s, Doak said.
REI boards dozens of bulls, mainly from Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas.
Semen is diluted with egg yolk to insulate it from cold shock and an antibiotic is added that kills sexually transmitted diseases.
A spectrometer can determine the sperm count in the semen.
``The name of the game is to get the right number of sperm cells in the dose so they can get it in the uterus,'' said Hutchens, who has a master's degree in genetics and physiology from OSU.
REI sells equipment that breeders can use to artificially inseminate cows and the company teaches classes on the procedure.
A smaller and newer part of its business is embryo collection.
Besides bull semen, REI collects sperm from coon dogs, goats, sheep, deer and elk. The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Lawton uses the company to collect semen from its longhorn cattle so it can preserve the species from inbreeding.
A straw of frozen semen sitting in 95 degree water will thaw in 30 seconds, Hutchens said. It will last thousands and thousands of years frozen in liquid nitrogen.
``Some of this stuff will live long after we're gone,'' he said.