Don Brown BS, Fresno, Ohio. Don has over twenty years of experience with all phases of artificial insemination (AI) in horses. Don retired from an agricultural education and extension career, and continues working with farmers as a USDA crop loss adjuster. As a participant in the previously described SARE Grant # FNC13-901, he is fully aware of the ram semen preservation issues identified at that time, and has a definite plan for solving those issues. He will manage this project on his forty-acre farm, where he owns and promotes a forty ewe, three ram flock of heritage breed Blue Faced Leicester and Lincoln Long-wool sheep. The farm is divided into ten rotational pastures, and he is aided in flock management by a guard llama, donkey, and working stock dog. Don will also arrange and perform live education outreach regarding project conclusions.
Anne Brown BSN, RN, Fresno, Ohio. Anne is Don’s wife, and has shared his twenty years of experience in equine artificial insemination (AI) as the technician who collected, evaluated, extended and shipped the semen samples. She also participated in the previously described SARE Grant project, as the ram semen handler and evaluator. She is a BSN prepared Registered Nurse. She will participate in this current grant project by performing flock health management, and again collecting, evaluating, extending and chilling the semen samples. Furthermore, she will perform the successive chilled semen motility evaluations for each sample. Anne will be responsible for maintaining accurate records and drafting the written reports and articles for outreach publication.
Cody Brown, Fresno, Ohio. Cody is the twenty-six year old son of Don and Anne, and currently carries out the daily chores and heavy work required on the farm. He will participate as hired labor during this proposed project. As a lifelong livestock handler, Cody has developed an effective, minimally stressing technique for handling this flock, and will be a great asset in the humane care of the animals throughout the project.
Betsy Hodge MS-BS, Regional Livestock Educator, Cornell University Extension Service, NY. Betsy Hodge leads a group of Extension Educators from across northern New York State, focusing largely on issues facing sheep and goat producers. She provides programs on all areas of production, from nutrition and rotational grazing to handling, marketing, and parasite management. Over the past year, she has been networking with Don and Anne on the specific issues faced with artificial insemination in sheep. Ms. Hodge has written a Letter of Support for this grant proposal, and anticipates incorporating the findings into her own research protocol.
Craig Zimmerly DVM, Apple Creek, Ohio. Dr. Zimmerly graduated from the Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine in 2010. He has been involved in sheep production for many years, with a strong interest in AI and ultrasound. Dr. Zimmerly was also a participant in the previously described SARE grant, and therefore is personally acquainted with the semen issues identified at that time. He will contribute to this proposed project by performing the breeding soundness exams on the rams, and sharing his ideas on solving the identified issues.
The focus of this project is to obtain a series of ram semen samples collected by artificial vagina on a phantom ewe. These samples will be evaluated in multiple semen extenders, then chilled and re-evaluated at 24 hour increments. The purpose is to identify effective ram semen handling methods and optimal chilled extension media, to make chilled shipped semen an available resource to small sheep ranchers.
The primary resulting issue discovered was difficulty in convincing the rams to mount the phantom and ejaculate into an artificial vagina (AV). Numerous re-configurations of AV, phantom and venue were attempted, without reliable ram performance attained.
After consultation with other researchers and sheep producers, further protocol adjustments are planned for year two of this project.
Since the original objective of this project is to evaluate ram semen, it is essential to first identify a reliable method for collection of clean catch semen samples.
The second year proposal is adjusted to include further modifications to the phantom, and utilizing three ewes for rotating forced estrous to ensure the availability of “hot” ewes at required collection times. The phantom will be further modified by inserting the AV into the phantom, eliminating the distraction of a handler between the ram and phantom.
Three vet approved ewes will have CIDR’s inserted vaginally with removal and PG-600 shots utilized per protocol to ensure effective tease ewe availability which should entice rams to mount phantom and ejaculate reliably into AV. [Editor’s Note: CIDR stands for Controlled Internal Drug Release — an intravaginal progesterone insert used to synchronize estrus.]
In order to obtain clean catch semen samples for evaluation, a controlled collection environment/procedure was needed. This project collaborated with information previously collected from Betsy Hodge and her research team at Cornell University Sheep Research Station.
A phantom ewe was constructed to simulate the size, shape and angle of a receptive breeding ewe. See photo #1. This was first placed between two ewes in a head-gate who were displaying heat, and the ram was pushed onto the phantom as he rose to mount the desired ewe. The first phantom design was too long, as the ram had to back up to mount and lost his erection. See photo #2. The phantom was shortened, to no avail. All rams lost erections in this process, possibly due to distraction. See photo #3.
Ewes and phantom were then moved into a breeding chute, to minimize distraction. See photo #4. All rams mounted but collection was hampered by the need for the collector to reach through the wall window to get the penis into the AV. This also broke the chain of arousal and was ineffective at collection.
Cushioning on phantom was increased to more accurately simulate ewe. See photo #5.
Commercial deer/doe pheromone was applied to phantom without stimulating arousal.
Urine collected from ewes in estrus was applied to the phantom, which stimulated mounting, but not ejaculation.
AV was inserted into back of phantom to eliminate interference by collector, but by this point, researchers were out of “hot” ewes.
Results of the first year of this project identified specific areas needing improvement. To facilitate sufficient ram arousal, a consistent supply of ewes in full heat is required. To facilitate collection while ram is mounted on phantom, the end plate holding the AV will be adjusted to a more funnel-like shape, to guide the penis reliably into the AV. Presence of a ewe in full estrus was effective in facilitating ram semen collection in project #FNC13-901, providing encouragement that this may also facilitate collection in this project.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Since this project is only half way through the research portion, and none of our projected outreach events have taken place yet, there are no formal outreach statistics to report.
However, informal conversations have taken place continually throughout the research period, both gathering ideas on phantom design and ram collection techniques. These have been conducted in person, over the phone, and via email.
As this grant project is not yet complete, we do not have any final conclusions to report at this time. Please refer to the rest of this interim report for project progress, problems encountered, and proposed solutions to be implemented in 2018.
This researcher identifies a need for further development of semen collection techniques for rams. This may include methods for maintaining ewes in active estrous, collection facility design to enhance focus and reduce distraction, and phantom design improvements. All of these factors will be addressed in year two of this project.