70 years ago, Waterloo Region was at the forefront of a revolutionary innovation that would change the trajectory of the future of the dairy industry.
In the 1940s, Roy Snyder, a local farmer who was raised in an Old Order Mennonite home, had a unique vision when it came to breeding cattle. He believed that artificially inseminating dairy cows would have a significant impact on farmers and the general public by increasing productivity and milk supply. This new technique meant that it was no longer necessary to own a bull to help establish a herd of cattle. This also gave them access to semen from top-quality bulls to produce genetically superior cattle.
The Lexington Road barn, which opened in January 1947, was where Snyder began to care for bulls and handle semen sales with veterinarian, Dr. Joseph E. Johnson. Their artificial insemination unit opened in 1948. It was the first unit in Canada, and the first in the world to establish an all-frozen semen system, by which they would extract sperm from champion bulls and freeze dry it. This technique made semen available to cattle breeders who were not in close proximity to a bull, and was eventually available to be shipped around the world.
This insemination unit later became known as the Waterloo County Cattle Breeding Association, where they began to collect and sell semen for dairy cows, as well as several other breeds of cattle. In addition to selling to Waterloo County, the Waterloo County Cattle Breeding Association also reached farmers in Wellington, Bruce, and Huron counties.
In 1963, Snyder became the general manager of the Ontario Association of Animal Breeders. In 1975 he helped establish and run Semen Exports Canada (later shortened to Semex), an export company that handled overseas semen sales.
In 1968, the Waterloo County Cattle Breeders unit on Lexington Road became part of the United Breeders Inc. They were later amalgamated by Gencor, and again in 2011 by Semexx, which is now owned by EastGen Inc. EastGen has its head office north of Guelph and continues to carry on Snyder’s legacy as a leading vendor in artificial insemination.