Artificial Insemination

I have been using AI for about 12 months now, after receiving a video from the American Budgerigar Society featuring Dr Bob Cave.

I have used AI to supplement fertility, when cocks were scared, runners, too big, have no sperm or hens that are box-bound, have injuries etc.,. I soon found that the overwhelming reason for infertility was that the cock did not have sperm. I have read many articles on fertility for budgerigars where they go on about nutrition, vitamins, overcrowding, trimming vents, square perches and many other ideas. All of these issues are usually good for budgies, so I agree we should carry them out, but they really have nothing to do with egg fertility. If you wish to achieve fertility, all you need is sperm inserted by AI in the correct way, and the hen lays a normal egg. This egg is then incubated for about 3 days and it will be fertile.

I usually have 70 pairs up at a time. After waiting about 10 days the hens start laying. I then check the cock birds for sperm. I (and other friends) have found that only 55% of cocks have sperm, so that means starting out with only a possibility of 55% of eggs being fertile, that is if the cock has mated properly.

You will not achieve fertility if your hen lays those rough eggs that lack calcium. These may start out fertile but soon addle, as they are far too porous and easily allow bacteria in. When a hen produces these porous eggs, I use Vetafarm Calcevet, a couple of drops direct to the beak. If the eggs do not improve it is usually that the hen is too old or something is wrong with her system.

Male sperm can be “recycled”, there was an article in Budgerigar World (I think) a couple of years ago, but I have not been able to find it again. I have found that some budgies have sperm every day for 12 months. Others for 1 month then not for 3 months then again for 2 months. I would say on average, cocks would have sperm for about 5 months of the year. The testicles of a budgie are deep inside the bird. There are tubes that take the sperm to an area just below the anus where it is stored until it is used when mating. This is how we are able to collect the sperm with a capillary tube. The tube must be plain not Hebron-coated as Hebron is toxic to sperm. You may be able to obtain them from your chemist or local hospital, but remember, not Hebron coated. Do not try to re-use these tubes, they are clean but are not sterile.

Once you have practiced obtaining the sperm it is very easy, as long as there is sperm there to collect. You use a soft squeezing motion drawing up from just under the anus. If you don’t obtain semen after about 6-7 squeezes the cock probably does not have any sperm to give or he may have just used it? So check again tomorrow (early in the morning). I usually collect after work at about 7pm. I wait for the first egg to be laid, then check the cock for sperm. If he has sperm I collect it and put it in to the hen, just in case the pair have not mated properly. I then mark my box card with AI and the date. If the cock has no sperm, I use the next best-suited cock that has sperm, and mark the card with the Ring No of the cock as well as AI and the date. I can now hear you asking how do you know who is the father. You use the same method as when shifting an un-rung chick. I believe it is better to have the chick and not know the parentage than not have the chick at all.

You cannot put sperm on a hen’s tail and expect fertile eggs to fall on the floor. You must put up a pair in a box and get both birds in the “laying mode” Sometimes you may wish to put a cock over a couple of hens and this can be done by putting up a pair in one box and another hen in a box by herself or with an infertile cock. If you knew when the hen was exactly going to lay her first egg, she would be swollen enough to AI her 2 days before. If you wished to make sure her first egg was fertile.

Once the hen has laid the first egg, you need to AI her that night if you wish the second egg to be fertile. If you wait until the next day you will have missed the second egg, but will fertilise the third. The hen has cells that are called “sperm storage” cells, where she holds the sperm for up to 16 days. When the egg is being fertilized there is only a 15 minute window before the white of the egg is wrapped around the yolk and the egg can no longer be fertilized. That is why it is so important for the hen’s sperm storage cells to be working correctly. You only have about 5 minutes to blow the sperm into the hen from the tube before the sperm starts to lose its viability. After about 10 minutes the sperm will become like clag and you can’t blow it out. I don’t check the sperm with a microscope, but you could do this if you wished. Before you collect the sperm you should pull out all the feathers from around the anus of the pair, especially the ring of small feathers around the anus (some people call these guide feathers), as these act like a magnet to sperm and once the sperm is in these, you can’t get it out. You use a stroking action under the anus, to get the faeces out of the hen. But make sure you get all the faeces out of her (make sure the anus is not facing you or you may cop the lot). You must tissue away the faeces especially the urine part as this is toxic to sperm. Once you are sure all the faeces are out, again put pressure under the anus to open her up so as you can see the wet pink bit inside. Now blow the sperm out of the capillary tube on to the pink bit. Let the tail down, the anus will close and then put her back into her box. If you have not got all the faeces out of the hen, she will usually jump on the perch and defecate, and there goes the semen you had just put in.

Theoretically, you only have to AI once for 8 eggs. But I check that AI has worked by checking the second egg, 3 days after it has been laid. If it is not fertile, I will AI the hen again. I can hear you saying “why do I have the first egg fertile, the second egg infertile, and the third egg fertile?” There is something wrong with the sperm storage cells, or the sperm count may have been down. Now that I have been collecting sperm for about 12 months, I can usually tell just by looking at the cock’s anus area. With the feathers pulled away, if the anus looks plump and raised he usually has sperm. If the anus is level you may obtain sperm if it is an old cock or you have got a good chance that he will get sperm at a later date. I have found that the cock that has a sunken anus usually has no sperm and may never get it (so buyer beware).

It is much easier if you have two people collecting the sperm. I usually collect by myself, one hand is used to hold the head of the cock between the little finger and the fourth finger, then the thumb is used to arch the tail back. The other hand is used to squeeze the anus, and because we don’t have another hand, I use my teeth to hold the capillary tube. I am careful not to block the end with my tongue or anything else (and don’t suck back what ever you do) otherwise the automatic capillary action will not work. On many occasions I have found the cocks sperm to dry up once he starts feeding the chick, this may be to protect the chick from his father attacking? So if you wish to continue using sperm from a cock it is best to remove the cock before he starts to feed the baby chicks.

You will find that some cocks shake, or take what looks to be a fit in your hand. If you continue to hold this bird he will probably die. This is called “racing heart syndrome” and it is when the bird is scared. It’s heart starts to race at about ten times the normal rate, causing the heart not to fill with blood, so there is no blood flowing to the brain. Unless you can quiet down this cock, you cannot use AI with this bird. I have noticed that hens do not suffer from this syndrome.

AI carried out correctly means 100% fertility. In England AI is banned, why I do not know? I was a Councillor and Mayor of the City of Williamstown for twelve years, and over that time the CEO always insisted that we never make a law (ban) you can not police. AI is accepted practice with farmers of livestock. It is utilized with cattle and sheep and also by the poultry industry. Apparently, a semen dilution medium is required for the successful insemination of the larger parrot. When this is reached in the laboratory, one can imagine how the rarer endangered varieties can be saved from extinction.

There is no doubt that AI needs to be used with care; it should not be used to put one cock over 1000 hens, which may fix very undesirable traits. But it is very desirable when you are trying to set up your own line of budgies very quickly, as it allows you to have many related birds in the first year, not to mention producing from that super cock, which can not mate because of an accident to a foot etc.,.

Once the sperm can be frozen and reconstituted, this will put the best birds in the world in the reach of all of us in the fancy (rich and poor). In the cattle industry, you can obtain a catalogue which contains a picture and a description of the bulls. The semen is then posted to you for about $50. Can you imagine what it will be like to be able to use the best birds in the world with your next mating? But for the moment the only way you can use a cock bird, which you do not own, is to see if the person that owns a suitable cock for your hen, would consider taking a stud fee. You would need to take your hen to his aviary the day she lays her first egg and AI her there.

The only tools required for AI are capillary tubes and some tissues.

The Do’s for AI.

  • Make sure the birds are in laying mode (both cock and hen paired up until the hen lays her first egg).
  • AI at least 36 hours before the hen is due to lay her next egg.
  • Pluck all feathers around the anus.
  • Make sure all faeces are out of the hen before inseminating her.
  • Towel away any urine, as it is toxic to sperm.
  • Keep records on what cock was used and the date she was inseminated.
  • AI every day, if you wish to make sure of fertility.
  • Use a cock when he has sperm, because it may be 6-12 months before he may have sperm again.
  • Use AI on those big buff hens if you want fertility.

The Don`ts

  • Leave the sperm in the tube for more than 5 minutes.
  • Do not use Hebron coated capillary tubes, as Hebron is toxic to sperm.
  • Re use tubes.
  • Cover or block the ends of the capillary tubes.

When I have given some talks on AI some people have been very negative, and have tried to abuse me. As I have said on many occasions, I am not promoting AI. I have been asked to give talks on AI, as I have been asked to write this article. I hope people who do not use AI, will leave me to breed at least 50%nbsp;more chicks, and from my larger buff hens that usually have clear eggs. Once freezing the sperm has been perfected, I will be able to legally import sperm. While those people that do not use AI will be still waiting for the import ban to be lifted.

Original text: Copyright 1998, Graham McGuire

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Andy Nethercott July 20, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Please could you tell me what size the capillary tube should be.



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