The History of ABS Global, Inc.

ABS and the Artificial Insemination Industry

ABS Global, Inc. has had a significant impact on the world livestock scene for nearly 70 years.

By following a concept of breeding superior livestock through artificial insemination, ABS and A.I. together have made immeasurable impact on providing the world with a dependable supply of meat and milk.

Mr. Prentice, pictured left, played a major role in determining the course of the industry in the United states. Mr. Prentice believed in the principle of progeny tested sires. Since one of the advantages of A.I. is the capability of getting thousands rather than dozens of calves from each sire, the importance of that sire being truly superior genetically is obvious. In those early days, however, Mr. Prentice often stood alone on this principle while others were taking the easier route of selling semen from less expensive, nonprogeny test sires.  

Rock Prentice's "foundation stones" for success of ABS were:

  • Good people-the best in their respective fields
  •  Free and open competition-to instill efficiency and to best serve the public.
  •  Top progeny tested sires-the basis for the industry.
  •  Research-to create a sound technical basis for a new industry.
  •  Capital-to underwrite the rapid progress of a company.
  •  Profit-to show a return on the investment and to create the wherewithal for further development.
  •  His foresight in outlining the keys to success has stood the test of time well.
     
The Development of Frozen Semen

During the early days of the industry, there was no means of preserving semen other than in a liquid form for a few days at 35° to 38°F. Thus, semen had to be shipped usually on an every-other-day basis to the field technicians scattered across the country where the cows were located.  

Under the leadership of the late Dr. Elwin Willett, a calf was born in 1950 as a result of an embryo transplant.

In January 1951, the first calf was reported born from semen that had been frozen in England by D.L. Stewart using procedures that included the addition of glycerin to the extender described by A.U. Smith and Chris Polge in 1950.

 On May 29, 1953, the first calf (appropriately named "Frosty"), pictured above, was born in North America from semen frozen by Prentice's staff at ABS. In the late fall of 1953, Mr. Prentice retained Polge to work on basics with ABS to further develop the commercial application of these laboratory breakthroughs.  

Development of Practical Field Storage

At that point, frozen semen was stored in dry ice and alcohol at -110°F. This was a start, but far from a practical field technique for storing and transporting semen. Some efforts were also expended toward mechanical refrigeration. 

Mr. Prentice and his staff recognized the properties of liquid nitrogen as being advantageous (very cold at -320°F) and nonflammable (for safety). 

Major efforts and expenditures were devoted to developing a small thermos type container, with at least a 2-week holding time, that could be transported from farm to farm as the local inseminator made his rounds. 

The Linde Division of Union Carbide worked with American Breeders Service in this development. The first units, pictured left, combined both a new insulating substance and vacuum and were available for use in the field in 1956. ABS totally converted to this system in 1958. 

As agreed upon by Mr. Prentice, this new equipment, which had been developed at great cost to American Breeders Service, was unselfishly made available soon thereafter to competitive A.I. organizations by Linde. The development of frozen semen had a dramatic effect on ABS and the industry.

A History of Leaders at ABS Global

Mr. Prentice, the sole stockholder, decided to in 1966 to sell the company so that, in the event of his death, the company would be able to continue as an entity.

After considering several suitors, Mr. Prentice and the management decided that W.R. Grace & Co. was the best fit for further development of ABS.

ABS became a part of W.R. Grace & Co. on September 1, 1967. In 1968, Dr. Robert E. Walton was appointed President of ABS. He served in that capacity for 20 years. In 1989, Dr. John J. Sullivan was appointed the third President of ABS.

W.R. Grace sold ABS to a company named Protein Genetics, Inc. in August of 1994. The President of ABS at that time was Jack E. Shelton, a former Grace employee who chose to remain with ABS and leave Grace after a 22 year career. PGI was a holding company with a mix of corporate, investor institutions and individuals as shareholders. Jack Shelton served as President from July of 1991 until June of 1996.

PGI held ABS until November 1999 when it was sold to Genus plc, an England based agriculture company. Genus has holdings in not only bovine A.I. (the largest A.I. company in the UK) but also in ag consulting and a veterinary supply distribution company. In 2006, Genus plc purchased Sygen, a holding company that owned PIC and Syaqua. Syaqua, a shrimp genetics company, was sold shortly thereafter. PIC, the world’s largest porcine genetics company, has helped to make Genus the world’s largest animal genetics company.  

At the time of the sale of ABS to Genus, the President of ABS was Marc van't Noordende who joined ABS in December of 1996. Mr. van't Noordende, a Netherlands native, had a professional background in chemicals and management prior to coming to ABS. Mr. van't Noordende left ABS in March of 2000. In July of 2000, Ian Biggs, an England native, became President of ABS Global, Inc. Mr. Biggs has an extensive background in biotechnology and business development. Under his direction the Research teams of ABS and PIC have combined in a continued effort to make the next significant advancement. 

As ABS entered the 1990's, the company undertook significant restructuring steps to position the organization to be the dominant supplier of dairy and beef genetics and related products to producers around the globe. The current emphasis is on global expansion through consolidation and technological advancements to differentiate ABS products in the market place. 

Global Growth

Today, ABS has wholly owned business units or joint venture marketing operations in Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Australia, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Germany, France, Ireland, South Africa, India and China. These business partnerships are augmented by a network of distributors and agents around the world bringing ABS products, programs and services to an ever-increasing percentage of the world's livestock producers. Working with people who know the cultures, markets, languages and needs of their respective countries has proven an effective method of building strong, productive relationships.

A.I. organizations have worked together on self-imposed standards of conduct, performance and credibility. When customers buy semen, they buy two things that require superb confidence in their supplier. First is the hope that their cows will become pregnant. The second is the trust that the resulting offspring will, several years later, be a worthy addition to their herds.

In other words, the customer is buying futures that can never be measured at the time of purchase. This credibility and past performance of an A.I. company became the only standards for judgment. Without this high degree of credibility, the industry would not have developed to the point where more than 65% of the nation's dairy cows, and several million of its beef cows are now bred artificially.

There is one other group of people that has not yet been called to your attention and who are very important to ABS' economy - the ABS Representatives and Distributors who are responsible for servicing over 3 million beef and dairy cows each year with ABS-produced semen.

These are professionally trained men and women dedicated to being of service to the dairy producers and cattle breeders in their communities.

Some of them have driven over a million miles and bred over 100,000 cows during their careers. Obviously, it is not possible to relate in detail all the events and people that have contributed to the principles, philosophy, technical base, spirit and success of ABS. It was a team effort, with Mr. Prentice providing the driving force behind the developments in a financial sense and, more importantly, establishing and implementing the basic guiding principles. That team has made ABS Global, Inc. the largest A.I. company in the world with over 11 million units sold annually.
 

ABS Dekorra--Expansion for the Future

Our business is growing, and so are our facilities. ABS is committed to bringing you the highest level of genetics, and in order to continue to do so has purchased 240 acres located 15 miles north of ABS Global headquarters in DeForest, Wisc in July 2007. Over the next four years, four barns will be built on the property to house a total of 350 additional dairy and beef sires.

The Facilities:

  • 50 acre plot
  • Three barns will be constructed housing 80 bulls each
  • Located on the other side of the property, the fourth barn will be a European Union Qualified barn housing 50-60 bulls and will also contain a collection ring. Building Timeline
  • Completed - Barn 1: Winter 2007 EU Barn: Winter 2008 Barn 2: Winter 2009  

ABS Global continues to be dedicated to the improvement of dairy and beef cattle to produce milk and meat more efficiently. This can be done through development, selection, and extensive use of the best progeny tested sires in each breed via artificial insemination. These principles were fundamental when the company was founded. They are still basic today.