Advertisement
News

Canadian Bulls Are Swinging Dicks on the International Semen Market

Animal cum is big business and Canada is raking it in.

by Arthur White
Mar 27 2015, 7:09pm

Mainstream Manifold. All photos by Arthur White

Mainstream Manifold, a ten-year-old Holstein bull living in Guelph, is a creature of routine—"set in his ways," as barn supervisor John Balkwill puts it.

Manifold works on a rigid schedule: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are his collection days. It's always the same ritual. Early in the morning, he's led out of his pen and into a rubber-floored room under rows and rows of soft fluorescent lights. "He likes someone standing beside him when he's doing it, trying to get him motivated," says Balkwill. But the 2,700 pound bull with the cookies-and-cream coat won't do it with just anyone. He's got his favourite handlers. Alex Moir, who's worked with him for years, says Manifold can get "a little cranky." It takes a team of two to get him to perform. But Moir doesn't hold it against him. "It's just his nature," he says.

Manifold refuses to use the "dummy," a mock cow torso built into a rail on the far side of the room, so the team brings in a steer—a castrated male. Despite the more than 20,000 daughters he's sired, Manifold has hardly ever seen a cow since his mother, Marsh Aeroine, birthed him at Washington state's Mainstream farm.

"He's not a fast worker. You have to be patient with him," says Balkwill. The guys prompt Manifold to mount, then pull him back, then repeat. It's a tease. A tactic for getting him stimulated, frustrated and a little blue in the balls.

By this point, Manifold is rocking his head back and forth. That means he's ready to go. His handlers help him slip into an artificial bovine vagina, generously lubricated and heated to a pleasant 42-48 degrees Celsius. And then it's all over in a matter of seconds.

Manifold's routine has made a lot of money for his owners, the Guelph-based semen production company Semex Alliance. In fact, Manifold is their only living "millionaire sire," a title conferred on bulls who pump out a million doses of jizz. By now, he's made it to 1.2 million.

Each ejaculation adds up to somewhere between 100 and 1,000 doses, depending on age, season and level of excitement, which means Manifold has gotten off in that artificial vagina several thousand times. That's sufficiently impressive to earn him a framed portrait on the Semex Wall of Fame. Here, on the other side of the glass partition that separates the viewing area from the collection room, he joins the storied company of Brixton Astro Jet, Comestar Leader, Hannover Hill Inspiration and Roybrook Starlight.

"It takes a lot to make a million," says Balkwill.

The Semex wall of fame

Semex and the Canadian semen market
Animal cum is big business, and Canada is a global leader, second only to the United States. Virtually every dairy cow in Europe and North America is now bred using artificial insemination. In a bid to modernize their agriculture industries, emerging powers like China and Brazil are following suit. That's causing demand for quality sperm to explode. And Canadian bulls, long renowned for their genetic heritage and prodigious milk production, are stepping in to supply more than a fifth of the worldwide bovine semen market.

Canada's bull semen exports topped $110 million last year, according to the United Nations, almost doubling since a sag during the financial crisis. The United States is still our top customer, followed by the Netherlands. But China has increased its Canadian jizz intake fivefold since 2009, surging up from seventh to third place.

This is great news for Semex. The company broke its one-year record in 2014, selling 12 million semen-infused straws across the globe. It now ships to 84 countries, employs 1,800 people around the world and owns 1,400 bulls at three production centres across Canada. The largest, a few kilometres north of Guelph, is the central hub for the company's international distribution network.

Semex's Guelph facilities

A trip through the facility
The Guelph facility is basically a semen factory. Adjoining a lab and a giant shipping area full of semen vats, the barn houses about 400 bulls. Every weekday, 40 or so go through their routines on the collection floor. "Collection" is the preferred term for getting a bull off. Call it "harvesting" and company execs get antsy.

Semex uses the artificial vagina method, the gold standard of the industry. The things basically look like fleshlights, but without the mock-up porn star vulvas on the receiving end. Sometimes bulls don't cooperate, and handlers have to get creative. In the past, Moir says, they occasionally resorted to electroejaculation to collect from bulls who were too dangerous, old or ill to mount. As the name suggests, electroejaculation basically means shoving a probe up a bull's rectum and shocking his pelvic nerves until he cums. It sounds painful, but Moir says the bulls didn't really seem to mind. Apparently human men have occasionally been known to do this for kicks. In any case, the company doesn't do any ass-electrocution anymore. The technique is still used in industry research though, including a recent University of Saskatchewan study that gave bulls the "love chemical" oxytocin before shocking their butts. The result: it made them cum faster. But Semex representatives say electroejaculation is not "representative of what we do." Instead, when bulls seem unwilling, the team tries a whole range of gentler strategies. "Give 'em rest, massage 'em, give 'em heat," Moir says, "whatever we can do."

After the bulls finish their business, their semen goes through a window into the lab. There, technicians carefully inspect each load, looking for debris, making sure it's a consistent milky white. They use microscopes to find the little guys—the spermatozoa—checking that they're swimming along nicely. But, with so much money on the line, scientific objectivity is essential. So Semex uses "computer assisted semen assessment systems" to obtain a "less subjective quality rating." If the semen fails on any count, it's thrown away. If it passes, it's injected into tiny straws, mixed with a solution containing egg yolk and antibiotics, and gradually cooled to five degrees Celsius. Then it heads off to the distribution room to be frozen in liquid nitrogen, packaged and shipped to farmers around the world. Chilled to -196 degrees, the sperm will stay potent enough to knock up a cow for decades – probably indefinitely.

The "dummy" used by many bulls—but not Mainstream Manifold

History of industrialized reproduction
The globalization of animal reproduction is the last stretch of a long road. Farmers have been improving their herds through selection for millennia. But the industrial-scale distribution of jizz from an elite core of proven bulls has kicked animal eugenics into overdrive. Instead of the hundred or so offspring a run-of-the-mill bull could produce by wandering around a farmer's herd and having his way with a few cows, a single exceptional bull like Manifold can now impregnate tens of thousands. And research breakthroughs keep accelerating the process. Marc-André Sirard, a specialist in bovine reproduction at Laval University who collaborates with Semex, says new technologies are pushing animals toward "the physiological limit."

Sirard, who says the bulls he works with generally get Pavlovian erections when they see him, specializes in in-vitro fertilization (IVF). IVF allows breeders to fertilize more than a hundred eggs with a single dose of semen. That means a bull can theoretically produce thousands of calves for every shot, a particularly attractive proposition for rare or expensive semen. The Chinese are especially fond of IVF, since it allows them to get a lot more bang out of their semen imports. And they have other tricks. Sirard explains that Chinese firms are known to buy up cow ovaries from Canadian slaughterhouses and extract the eggs, rather than pay the higher prices charged by genetics companies.

Another recent advance is sexed semen. Most dairy farmers have no use for bulls, especially in the days of open semen markets. But nature doesn't play favourites. So companies like Semex are now offering tailor-made jizz solutions that, depending on quality, produce females up to 90 per cent of the time. It's a simple process, based on the different weight of male and female chromosomes. "We use a magnetic current," Sirard explains. "The sperm fall on one side if they're Y and the other side if they're X."

But one advance has revolutionized the industry more than anything else: genetic testing. Virtually all young bulls are rated on a "productivity index" that calculates the economic potential of their daughters through DNA analysis and careful record keeping. Most bulls have scorecards listing their production traits. Manifold is rated fifth in his breed on the main Canadian index. His scorecard gives him excellent marks for daughter calving ability, mammary system and chest width, but a failing grade for rear teat placement. Not his teats, of course, but his daughters'.

Along with supply, a bull's place on the indexes helps determine the price of his semen. Prices start as low as $18 per dose, the price of semen from an Angus bull named J. Edgar Hoover. Johnny Cash's spunk sells for 24 bucks. But top quality jizz goes for much more. Lottomax, one of Semex's top bulls, sells for about $50 per dose, depending on the market. Given the number of doses in a typical splooge, that means some bulls can turn out more than $10,000 worth of cum with every shot.

Manifold and his handler, Alex Moir

Ethics
All this selective breeding has changed the animals, both male and female, but there's a certain gender injustice to it. Bulls might be denied the luxury of natural mating, but they basically wile away their time in production centres, munching on hay and making use of artificial vaginas. Cows get the short end of the stick. Besides having inseminator guns shoved up their yoo-yahs, they bear the biological burden of the production traits on those scorecards. Not surprisingly, high milk yields have long been a popular feature, and selection has ratcheted up output to the extremes. For Holsteins, average milk production per cow has more than doubled since 1956, and increased by about 5 per cent over the past ten years alone. Cows from Mainstream farm, where Manifold was born, have been known to produce over 130,000 litres of milk over their lifetimes.

Sirard's colleague at Laval's animal science department, professor Lyne Létourneau, is concerned about the impact these trends are having on the health of cows. "The industry views them as milk machines," she says.

The upward surge in milk output has been a major factor in mastitis, a bacterial inflammation of the udders that affects one of every five Canadian dairy cows in any given year. The infection kills mammary tissue, leaving cows with blackened udders that turn out pus-yellow, translucent milk. "It's very painful for the cows," says Létourneau. It can also be fatal.

Létourneau admits that some companies are working to improve animal health, but says progress is uneven across the industry. Semex representatives say they are promoting health traits, and scaling back the drive toward "show cows" with record breaking production numbers. That's not where the demand is now, they say. A cow capable of sustaining good milk production over a long career is more profitable than an animal that burns out after a few years of heavy output.

All this still leaves the broader question: how far is the industry prepared to go in manipulating nature for profit? Létourneau thinks intervention has already gone far enough. "We are selecting animals so they conform to the productive system in which they are raised," she says, "instead of adapting the system to the kind of animals they are."

But with emerging countries like China aspiring to North American consumption patterns, John Balkwill, the barn supervisor, asks how critics propose to meet booming demand without the help of technology.

"You just ask those people where they're going to get their milk from."

And so the industry keeps moving ahead. A small statuette of Manifold watches over the hallway leading to the sprawling Costco-esque tank room in Semex's Guelph semen factory. Inside, over swirling clouds of condensation from vats of liquid nitrogen, a bunch of college-age dudes with freeze-proof gloves and tongs are moving semen straws from one stainless steel vat to another. Behind them, an older guy in a full-length rubber apron stands by a row of giant tanks, filled with millions of doses of frozen bull cum. When an order comes, delivery trucks, jetliners and motorcycle couriers will cart it off in nitrogen-ensconced tanks, straight to farmers who will thaw it out and stick it into cow vaginas the world over.

Tagged:
Canada
Ontario
Guelph
Vice Blog
bull semen
Arthur White
Arthur White VICE
John Balkwill
Mainstream Manifold
Alex Moir
Semex Alliance
animal cum is big business
electroejaculation
Marc-André Sirard
sexed semen
Lyne Létourneau
mastitis
semen production
Canadian bull semen
Artificial bovine vagina