Zimbabwe, being a country with an agro-dependent economy, has a sizeable beef and dairy production sector. The breeding of cows (or more specifically studs) also happens to be a big business in the country with bulls regularly setting and breaking records at livestock auctions. Zimbabwe is however yet to fully embrace and benefit from the artificial insemination of livestock despite this being a technology in its seventh decade of existence. It is only recently that the government has become interested in the practice through institutions like the Chinhoyi University of Technology. There is however still a potentially large and lucrative market for private businesses which can provide artificial insemination as a service to livestock farmers, especially beef and dairy ones.
The basics of cattle artificial insemination
The artificial insemination of animals, as a whole, is a technical and involved process. The actual insemination is, however, easier than the other parts of the process (e.g. extracting, preparing and freezing the semen). Nowadays this final part usually involves thawing a straw containing frozen bull semen, placing the straw in an insemination gun which is then used to fertilise a cow which is in heat. Several of these straws are kept and transported in a special storage container which is kept at a low temperature using liquid nitrogen. The insemination process is easier said than done. It is usually performed by a skilled technician but is still simple enough for some farmers to do it themselves (while following an appropriate guide or manual of course). As a business which wants to profit from providing such or any other related services, you can do any of the following:
- Procure and resell the semen of prized animals
- Sell the required tools and instruments
- Provide associated consultation services
Do your research
The above is only a cursory overview of what is involved in the artificial insemination process. Luckily for you, there are articles, books and videos on the internet which delve deeper into the subject. Depending on your educational background, you might need to do just enough research to figure out if the business is for you and then hire someone(s) with more expertise to get it off the ground OR you will be able to do enough detailed research to run the entire operation yourself. Find out what laws and regulation would apply to such a business, especially about the importation of bovine reproductive material from other countries (which you might need to do if there are no local sources or you want to give your clients a greater diversity of options).
Find technical expertise
While you can run the business yourself given enough formal or self-education, many would instead prefer to hire appropriately qualified personnel to help run the day to day operations of the business. You can hire people with degrees, diplomas or any other qualifications in fields like an animal or veterinary sciences, agriculture, biology etc. Optionally you can just hire smart young people and get someone qualified to train them. Remember that AI is still a new concept in Zimbabwe and you will be one of its early ambassadors, so any botched jobs or too low fertilization rates caused by lack of experience in yourself or your workers will not only cast doubt on the technique’s efficacy but will also chase away potential customers through negative word-of-mouth.
Use a business plan to layout your vision of the company. A business plan will help you iron out the kinks, prove the viability of the business both to yourself and others, set goals and objectives in addition to communicating those objectives and goals. A business plan is also very important if you want to seek external funding to start your company. By the time you are done writing the business plan, you should have an idea of the potential market size for such a service and also how much money is needed to get started.
Do your research and find out which parts of the country have a high concentration of beef and dairy farmers. These farmers should also be able to both afford and appreciate the value of your services. You can then locate your facilities in cities, towns, growth points and centres most accessible to the greatest number of farms which you want to provide your services to. In less developed areas you might be able to easily afford to build your facilities but in most cases, you will need to lease the space which you operate from.
Equip your facilities
As mentioned earlier, cow reproductive material is kept and transported in a frozen state. If the material is prematurely thawed (and refrozen) it will be permanently damaged and become useless. If you intend to extract and prepare the required bull semen yourself you will need, among other things, what is called a Controlled Rate Freezer. This is because the treated reproductive material’s temperature must be lowered to 5oC over 2 hours—any faster than this and you risk damaging it. You must also provide protective equipment for your workers, low-temperature storage flasks, liquid nitrogen tanks, insemination guns etc. The liquid nitrogen which is needed to provide the low storage temperatures is available from companies like BOC.
Market your services
There are a lot of ways in which you can reach out to farmers with word of your services.
- Participate in agricultural shows
- Attend trade fairs
- Attend livestock auctions
- Advertise in agricultural publications
- Put up posters and distribute flyers inside veterinary supply shops
- Advertise inside veterinarian’s offices
Word-of-mouth will also serve you very well, so invest and commit yourself to provide world-class service to your clients.