That's Bull (Semen)

Forget beef, bull semen is in high demand.

After a lengthy battle, an American circuit court decreed Canadian beef free of mad cow disease earlier this summer, and on July 14, the U.S. opened its borders to Canadian meat products, prompting a flow of cattle trucks southward. It turns out something else is flowing, too. Bull semen is in high demand, says Kate Kolstad, general manager of Calgary-based Alta Exports International Ltd. “Canadian genetics are well known,” says Kolstad, whose company specializes in exporting live cattle, embryos, and beef and dairy bull semen for artificial insemination.

Bull semen costs anywhere between $3 and $100 a unit. More than 20 million live sperm are put into a unit before freezing. A single embryo costs between $300 and $500, since it's the full package: “The embryo is already fertilized,” says Kolstad, “so you have the genetics of both the female and the male.” Kolstad explains whether a client buys semen or embryos depends on the context. Russia, for example, wants to improve the quality of its beef. Implanting their cows with premium Canadian embryos will produce a higher-quality beef cow. China needs to improve its dairy production, and is buying large quantities of Canadian bull semen to breed higher-production cows.

Since starting the company on Jan. 1, 2000, Kolstad and partner Gary Smith have had some ups and downs. When the BSE crisis hit in May 2003, Alta Exports lost about $10 million in contracts. But recently, Alta Exports signed a deal with a Chinese company to export 40,000 units of Holstein bull semen. Now that's a load of bull.