Columbia's dirty jobs: Semen collection inspector for livestock

Monday, November 5, 2007 | 8:14 p.m. CST; updated 12:14 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Jere Mitchell is the service director for Certified Semen Services, and he travels to 22 different states inspecting semen collection from bulls. Mitchell used to run a collection center before working as an inspector.

Name: Jere Mitchell

Age: 58

Occupation: Service director, Certified Semen Services

Jere Mitchell spends his year traveling among 22 states to inspect livestock semen collection practices for members of Certified Semen Services.

In the United States, the artificial insemination industry is self-regulated. Columbia-based Certified Semen Services, a subsidiary of the National Association of Animal Breeders, was created to ensure the proliferation of healthy and disease-free cattle.

Through annual unannounced audits, Mitchell ensures members follow certain procedures, such as proper record-keeping, so the semen from their bulls can be used successfully in artificial insemination. If a cattle operation does not meet the organization’s standards, it can lose its certification.

Semen is harvested in collection centers and then packaged into straws labeled with the bull’s identification. The straws are placed in liquid nitrogen vapor and frozen for about 10 minutes. The semen can remain frozen indefinitely until needed for artificial insemination.

What prepared you to be a semen inspector?

“My cup of coffee in the morning.”

On the serious side, Mitchell added: “You have to have some experience in the industry to understand the processes of the businesses that we inspect.”

How much semen can a bull produce?

The animals typically produce 2 to 10 milliliters per collection, roughly less than a tablespoon.

“What’s important is not the volume collected. It’s the number of sperm cells that it contains.”

How did you get your job?

“I have a background in reproductive physiology, and this is one of the career areas that one could go into.”

Is there an ideal season for semen?

“Cooler temperatures but not harsh temperatures. (In open range situations) there’s all kinds of cases where bulls have had their testicles frozen because of harsh blizzard conditions.

“In artificial insemination centers, bulls are kept under more constant temperatures than natural conditions can provide.”

Where does the semen go?

“Every place where there are cattle improvement programs,” such as Europe, Australia, Mexico and South America.

“The large part goes to places that have a developed dairy and beef industry.”

What do you like about the job?

“The positive impact it has on improving cattle.”

Collections that meet the organization’s standards carry the Certified Semen Services seal, which indicates that it is disease-free and quality tested, he said.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

“A forester, that’s the truth.”

How do people react when you tell them what you do?

“Their mouths drop open; they get a chuckle out of the semen part of it. When you say ‘Certified Semen Services,’ they think it’s an X-rated deal.”

Anything people might not know about your job?

“People think it’s a barnyard kind of thing, but it’s science–based,” Mitchell said. “Our whole industry is a melding of animal science, reproductive physiology, genetics, veterinary medicine and marketing.”

Any down sides?

The travel. “The hassle of flying in planes, renting cars and driving gets old,” he said.

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