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The Kenya National Artificial Insemination Service

by G.R. Duncanson

An article on artificial insemination in developing countries was published in World Animal Review 9. As a follow-up to that article, we present here a case study of the organization and implementation of a successful AI scheme in a developing country.

The Kenya National Artificial Insemination Service operates in seven of the eight administrative provinces of Kenya, the exception being the arid northeastern province. However, effort is concentrated in the more productive areas with an annual rainfall of 400 mm and over, which are situated in the highlands, around Lake Victoria and on the coastal strip.

The total population of grade female cattle in the country, with more than 50 percent Bos taurus blood, is approximately 500 000. Of these, some 277 000 are covered by the national artificial insemination service. A further 45 000 zebu (Bos indicus) females are normally presented for service annually, but these represent only a small proportion of the total zebu cattle population of 10 million.

History of artificial insemination in Kenya

Artificial insemination in cattle was first performed in Kenya in 1935 by Dr. J. Anderson. It was confined to the collection of semen from bulls on individual farms for use on cows in the farms from which it was collected. It was used to combat epivag and other infectious infertility diseases. A survey carried out by Dr. Anderson at that time revealed that over 35 percent of bulls tested were sterile. This emphasized the importance of AI and so its use grew steadily. The first AI scheme was set up in Kenya in 1941 on the basis of a community bull scheme. This was followed in 1942 by a scheme operated by the Limuru Cattle Breeders' Association, which continues to this day and is linked to the Kenya National Artificial Insemination Service.

G.R. Duncanson was formerly Assistant Director (Artificial Insemination) of the Department of Veterinary Services, Kenya. His present address is 40 Yarmouth Road, North Walsham, Norfolk, United Kingdom. This article was prepared with the assistance of the Director of Veterinary Services, Kenya, and his staff.

The Kenya National Artificial Insemination Service is controlled by the National Artificial Insemination Board, whose chairman is the Director of Veterinary Services. This board directs its activities through an Assistant Director of Veterinary Services. The recurrent funds for the operations of the service are provided by the Kenya Treasury through the Ministry of Agriculture. Since July 1966, development funds have been provided by the Government of Sweden.
Semen is provided from a Central Artificial Insemination Station whose policy is directed by a management committee chaired by the Director of Veterinary Services. The secretary to the committee is the executive officer, who is also the veterinary officer in charge of the day-to-day running of the Central Artificial Insemination Station.

The Central Artificial Insemination Station was started in 1946 for distribution of semen throughout the country. Initially there were some bulls at substations, but these were subsequently disbanded.

AI schemes were set up in many areas for both large and small farms. By 1958 there were 12 schemes. However, the use of AI fell to a very low level in 1963 with the splitting up of large farms and the increased costs involved. Sales of semen from the Central Artificial Insemination Station dropped to such a point that it was hardly economical to continue. However, in 1964, with the demand created by the newly established settlement farms, semen sales began to rise again. The demand for dairy stock increased so rapidly that it was decided that the AI service should be subsidized. Plans were put forward to the Swedish Government which resulted in the initiation of the Kenya National Artificial Insemination Service in July 1966.

Bulls at the Central Artificial Insemination Station in Lower Kabete, Kenya

Central Artificial Insemination Station

This station is located in Lower Kabete and has over 125 bulls, of which 110 are from the four dairy breeds, Ayrshire, Friesian, Guernsey and Jersey. The rest belong to the Sahiwal, Simmental, Boran, Charolais and Hereford breeds. In the early years bulls were purchased from abroad as adults, then in later years as calves, but more recently a contract mating programme has been initiated. Semen from some of the best bulls in the world is imported and used on the best producing cows in Kenya, which are identified by comparing their performance with that of contemporaries maintained under similar conditions. The Central Artificial Insemination Station then has the option of buying any male progeny from these matings. Associated with this is a progeny testing programme which was started in 1969, using data from the Kenya Milk Recording Scheme. This facilitated accurate assessment of the genetic potential under Kenyan conditions of the dairy bulls maintained at the Central Artificial Insemination Station.

Over 700 000 doses of semen are produced annually at the station, mainly for use in the national AI service schemes. Of the station's output of semen 1 percent is exported and another 3 percent is sold to private and government farms not covered by the service. In 1973, about 20 percent of the semen was deep frozen in liquid nitrogen and 80 percent used at room temperature (16–25°C). The latter was obtained from the four dairy breeds and collected and delivered to the schemes twice a week.

The bulls are kept in individual paddocks with small separate covered pens in blocks of two. One attendant looks after four bulls. Semen is collected centrally, and checked by a veterinarian in the laboratory immediately after collection and before dilution and further processing.

A coconut milk extender is used for room-temperature semen. For deepfrozen semen an extender containing glycerol is used and the semen is then packed in 0.5-ml plastic straws in liquid nitrogen. Deep-frozen semen is produced from all the breeds standing at the Central Artificial Insemination Station, and will be increasingly used by the national service and would also be available for export.

National Artificial Insemination Service

The insemination service consists of two sections, both based at Kabete. These are the field services section and the planning and development section. Both are now staffed by Kenyan nationals.

The Kabete headquarters of the field services section is composed of two officers, a personal assistant to the Assistant Director of Veterinary Services in charge of AI, an executive officer responsible for AI stores, and supporting office staff. The field staff consists of 20 livestock officers, each of whom is in charge of an AI scheme. Ten of the larger schemes are provided with clerical staff. There are also drivers of motor vehicles in certain schemes where semen has to be transported to nonmotorized static points; but generally the 260 inseminators employed in the field drive their own vehicles. Each inseminator averages five inseminations per day. Of the 490 000 inseminations performed annually, 93 percent are carried out by motorized inseminators. The rest are performed by inseminators working from nonmotorized static points, usually on bicycles. This is wasteful of manpower, because the existing 56 nonmotorized static points average only 1.5 inseminations a day. This system provides a poor service to farmers: it is unreliable owing to communication difficulties, and supervision is impossible except on the twice-a-week semen delivery days. Room-temperature semen is used because the liquid nitrogen cylinder is too bulky to carry on a bicycle (this problem has been overcome on the remote island of Lamu by using a community donkey).

Right: Semen testing at the Central Artificial Insemination Station laboratory.
Below: Al recording at a roadside crush in a small farm area. Crushes are located at intervals of approximately 1.5 km. Over 75 percent of all inseminations are carried out at roadside crushes.

About 8 percent of the inseminations are performed by inseminators on motor cycles. These cycles have been found to be unreliable on account of frequent breakdowns and difficulties in handling on rough roads. Also, they cannot carry liquid nitrogen cylinders. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are expensive to run and are only required in a few areas where the roads are particularly bad. (However, they are useful for transporting brokendown motor cycles!) They are used for about 2 percent of the inseminations.

In order to save costs, increase efficiency and assist in supervision, the majority of the inseminations are carried out on motorized daily runs as opposed to motorized static points. On a daily run the inseminator leaves the scheme headquarters at the same time every morning and goes out on a set route with timed departures from insemination points. In the small farm areas these points are roadside crushes. They are spaced at intervals of approximately 1.5 km along the route. The farmers then know at what time they should bring their cows to the crush for insemination. The average daily run for each inseminator using a car is 120 km and includes up to 60 crushes, resulting in about 15 inseminations per day. The inseminators riding motor cycles have daily runs of about 50 km with up to 25 crushes, averaging 3.5 inseminations each per day. The inseminators operate daily runs in the large farm areas also, but the inseminations are performed on the farm at a crush near the road. In order to save mileage the farmer displays a flag at his gate if AI is required.

In some areas where farms are small visits continue to be operated on a motorized static point system. Farmers write down their names and addresses in a book that is kept at the office of the local chief or in a shop. The inseminator calls at this point and visits the farms indicated. But as this system results in only a small number of inseminations per day it has been largely discontinued. In 1973 there were only 21 runs working on static points as opposed to 91 on roadside crushes.

Transport is an expensive component of the service. In 1973, 140 saloon cars, 96 motor cycles and 11 fourwheel-drive vehicles travelled over 5 million km. As 85 percent of this distance was related directly to insemination work, it means that every insemination required about 10 km of travel.

The organization of a typical scheme, performing 80 to 100 inseminations a day, is as follows:

Offices — Semen room, clerical office, office for the officer in charge, changing/washing room with lavatory, and garage.

Staff — One livestock officer, 15 inseminators and one clerk (this provides 1.5 inseminators per run or static point which enables the service to function every day of the year).

Vehicles — One four-wheel-drive vehicle, eight saloon cars and three motor cycles (this offers 1.3 cars and 1.5 motor cycles per run, and makes allowance for repairs and delays in replacement).

Operations — Five runs and one static point covered daily by cars, two runs and two static points covered daily by motor cycles.

The basic AI recording is done in the field by the inseminators. Every farmer has an AI number and a file with a card for each cow. For the first insemination an AI certificate is completed by the inseminator and four carbon copies made. The first copy is returned by the inseminator to the AI scheme office. Should the animal return to service, the details are added to the original and the remaining copies. The second copy is then submitted to the office. A similar procedure is followed for the third insemination. Should the animal return to service more than three times, an infertility treatment of the uterus with penicillin and streptomycin is recommended and recorded. This is followed by a fourth insemination. If this is unsuccessful, either the cow is culled or a new certificate purchased.

A farm record sheet is completed at the AI scheme office before copies of the certificates are sent to the AI recording centre at headquarters, where the 60–90 day non-return rates for each inseminator, each bull, each scheme and the whole service are calculated on a monthly basis.

All cows are identified by a simple ear notch which is made by the inseminator at the time of first service. The planning and development section is staffed with two veterinary officers and two livestock officers (AI) who carry out AI field surveys and infertility investigations and also plan and assist in the reorganization and extension of the field service. Recording clerks attached to this section carry out the data processing of the AI certificate copies from the field.

Planning and development

During the last eight years not only have the staff planned the expansion of the service, but they have also helped the officers in the field by extended visits of up to four months to put the development plans into action. This work has been of great importance, but the need for it is expected to gradually diminish.

Basic practical training in artificial insemination is offered at Kabete


However, the work of the progress monitoring unit, or field survey team, consisting of two veterinarians and one livestock officer, will not diminish in importance. The team examines regularly all the stock, together with their AI certificates, on randomly selected farms in four districts. In this way the real results of the service can be assessed. Data obtained over the last eight years are of particular interest:

  1. The stocking rate has not risen in Kiambu district; the 15 percent surplus of AI-sired heifers has been sold to other districts.
  2. Approximately two thirds of heifers born by AI come into production.
  3. Six inseminations are required to produce a heifer which will come into production.
  4. Calf mortality has risen to 17 percent in the period; the causes are as yet unknown.
  5. The calving interval dropped from 467 days in 1966 to 400 days in 1972.
  6. The age of heifers at first insemination has dropped from 630 to 544 days.
  7. The pregnancy rate to all inseminations is 48 percent. Lowest rates are recorded during the months from January to April, which coincide with the period of low rainfall.
  8. The number of inseminations per pregnancy (based on animals that have eventually become pregnant) has now come down to well below two.
  9. Over 85 percent of all animals served by AI have become pregnant.

Precise information such as this, and not estimates, is vital for the development of an AI service.

An AI training team, consisting of two livestock officers and two demonstrators, is associated with the planning and development section. This team has changed its emphasis from the basic training of new recruits to refresher courses and followup activities in the field. During 1973 three six-week courses of basic training in AI were attended by 47 students, while 153 inseminators in the national artificial insemination service were given refresher courses lasting from one to two weeks. Every inseminator in the service attends such a course every other year. If an inseminator's non-return rate is low, he is given an extra course. In addition, seven livestock officers with diplomas in animal husbandry were given a five-week course in AI and AI supervision.

Another important part of the training is concerned with driving motor vehicles. In 1973, 45 candidates passed the driving test for cars and 72 the test for motor cycles, following training at the AI driving camp.

The aims

The main aims of the Kenya National Artificial Insemination Service are as follows:

  1. To control infectious breeding diseases.
  2. To improve the productivity of the national herd.
  3. To upgrade the low-producing zebu stock.

These aims are designed not only to increase milk and meat production, but to make this production more economical. This means that the activities of the service should result in an increase in the income and the standard of living of farmers, particularly small farmers in the farming areas with high potential. It should improve nutritional standards in the farming community and among consummers in its areas of operation, as well as in urban areas through increased milk supply. The service should also help to reduce foreign exchange expenditure on imports of cattle and cattle products, and increase foreign exchange income through the export of dairy products, beef, semen and live cattle.

The problems

The two major problems affecting the service are a low standard of animal husbandry and a lack of strict disease control, particularly tick control. These two factors are outside the scope of this article, but work on them must proceed together with AI. It is difficult to envisage their preceding the AI service, because without grade cattle there appears to be little need for the farmer to improve either husbandry or tick control. It is equally true that without either of the latter the grade cattle will die. It is only by using AI that a gradual upgrading process is achieved, giving the farmers time to adapt to the changes introduced. Schemes involving the mass introduction of adult grade cows into an area do not allow time for such adaptation, and often tend to be failures.

Where does the service go from here?

The main problems, in the setting up of the Kenya National Artificial Insemination Service have been resolved with time. The following changes have yet to be made:

  1. Complete motorization, using saloon cars for daily runs, in order to increase efficiency and supervision.
  2. Complete change-over to deepfrozen semen, in order to lower wastage and frequency of delivery; this would also facilitate the use of proven sires and a more accurate selection between sires on test.
  3. Improvement in the accuracy of AI recording to aid monitoring and the future planning of the service.
  4. Expansion of the milk-recording scheme so that contract mating and progeny testing programmes can be enlarged.

The goal of the service to produce high-quality dairy heifer calves for Kenyan farmers has been achieved to the extent that 100 000 crossbred and grade heifer calves are now produced annually. They cost K.shs. 50 ($7.15) each to produce, which is inexpensive by any standard. But at present only about 4.5 percent of this cost comes from the farmer in direct fees. Some means will have to be found to raise sufficient funds to run the service through a levy on dairy products.

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