Development of AI for Yak Semen and the Potential Economic Benefits to Southern Region Yak, Small Acreage Farmers and Beef Producers

Project Overview

FS21-335
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $14,998.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Zhi-ba Shing-ga Yaks (ZSY)
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:

Commodities

  • Animals: Yak

Practices

  • Animal Production: genetics, livestock breeding
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, quality of life

    Proposal summary:

    This project has two major components: The development of AI for yak semen process (from collection to impregnation) and educating small acreage farmers and beef producers concerning the potential benefits of introducing yaks and AI to their operations.

    Developing successful AI techniques. There are two basic means of semen collection: electro-ejaculation and use of an artificial vagina. The ICAR-National Research Centre on Yak at Dirang, India recommends use of an artificial vagina (AV).  However, because of the danger associated with using an AV on a yak bull that has not been handled since a young age we will first work with electro-ejaculation and later use the AV (see below). We will determine the correct semen extender and freezing protocol, test the frozen semen, and find the best yak impregnation process. This work will be managed by Dr. Harrelson and MultiGen Reproductive Solutions (MRS), which will do the collection and preservation of the semen. Yak bulls and cows for this phase of the project will be provided by ZSY. The extender selection and freezing protocol will be based on information already provided to Dr. Harrelson by our Indian colleagues. (The ICAR-National Research Centre on Yak at Dirang, India claims about an 80% AI success rate with yaks.) MRS will use the yak semen collected by electro-ejaculation to test the extender and freezing protocol.

    Concurrently, Gregor Dike, owner of ZSY will be working with younger bulls (one year old, six-month-old and bottle raised bulls) to train them for AV collection. The use of the three ages is to determine the optimum age for such training. As this is a two-year project, semen from the older bulls will be collected using an AV when they are over two years old. MRS will determine which method produces better semen for AI.

    Yak impregnation will be managed by Dr. Harrelson at the ZSY farm. If necessary, MRS will assist. Success of implantation and subsequent fetal development will be determined by ultrasound. MRS will maintain semen collected during the project for use by interested small acreage farmers and beef producers.

    All steps and outcomes will be documented and a final publication containing the collection procedure, extender and freezing protocol, and impregnation timing process will be produced as part of the part of the outreach materials

    Educating small acreage farmers and beef producers:  Mary McCarty, Dr. Lehmkuhler and Gregor Dike will work on the multiple components of the outreach plan as explained in Part C. Key to the material development will be the establishment of a small acreage farm and beef producer focus group to review the material and make recommendations.

    Yak Semen Selection: Dr. Ted Kalbfleisch, University of Kentucky will modify his “Match-A-Yak” program, which is designed to match bulls and yak cows to minimize coefficient of inbreeding to determine which bull given a set of bulls has the most genetic diversity. This component of the project will enable the selection of the best bulls for improving the overall genetics of a herd/the US herd.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Our approach to solving how to treat yak semen, extender and freezing protocol, is based on the many years of successful work done at the ICAR-National Research Centre on Yak at Dirang, India. Dr. V. Paul at the Research Centre on Yak has provided information on the semen extender and freezing protocol to students of Dr. Harrelson.  As noted previously, Dr. Harrelson and MultiGen Reproductive Solutions (MRS) will apply this information to the yak semen extenders they will test (from which to make a final selection) and how the semen will be frozen. MRS will test the frozen semen for viability throughout the project. Dr. Harrelson and MRS will also select the methods of determining the optimal time for impregnation for yaks as their period of fertility is short and they do not show many visible signs. The goal will be to select the method which yields the highest pregnancy rate and that can be used on a typical small farm.

    Electroejaculation and collection of semen with an artificial vagina (AV) will be done by at MRS. They will not only collect semen but determine the best method of collection in terms of quality for AI. (Note: The Research Centre on Yaks in India recommends collection using an AV.) Throughout the entire project Mr. Dike will be working with yak bulls (bottle fed through yearling) to train them for the mounting and handling required for AV semen collection. All decisions relating to selecting one method over another will be explained in the information developed for outreach. 

    Dr. Ted Kalbfleisch will modify his “Match a Yak” software designed to select the bull which will yield the smallest coefficient of inbreeding for a given yak cow to allow him to select which bull from a set of bulls would bring greater genetic diversity. His work will ultimately be used to determine which bulls are the best for an AI yak semen program that will decrease the level of inbreeding in the southern and US yak herd.

    Cooperative Extension Agent Mary McCarty, Dr. Lehmkuhler and Gregor Dike will work on the information developed for the critically important outreach component of the project. This is described in Section C. They will test the information developed on area beef producers to get feedback and do an iterative process of modification to develop the best way to present the materials to beef producers. Specific educational materials will be developed for yak breeders, small acreage and underserved farmers, and larger beef producers.

    NOTE: Kelly VanKirk, of Greystone Farms located in Tennessee and Robert Cissell, of Nature’s Bridge Farm located in Virginia are yak meat producers and have agreed to review all steps and results of the project.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.