Sheep artificial insemination to improve lamb marketing in the Northeast

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,673.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Grant Recipient: Cornell Cooperative Extension
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Betsy Hodge
Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Animals: sheep


  • Animal Production: livestock breeding
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, workshop

    Proposal abstract:

    A group of sheep producers interested in using sheep artificial insemination (AI) has been meeting for over a year. At every sheep conference, other producers from the northeast tell me of their interested in learning more about and practicing sheep AI. The need for better genetics is great. Many of our sheep flocks are related so we need new genetics as well as superior and tested genetics. Better genetics will lead to better growth rates and more uniform carcasses which will enhance profitability and ease of marketing on our farms. Many of our farms work together to market their lambs or have similar production goals in mind such as bigger loin eye, better gain after weaning, and better hair shedding or wool quality depending on the breed. The purpose of this grant is to educate producers and local veterinarians in the use of, and practice of sheep AI both laparoscopic and vaginal. Farmers will also use what they learned to practice AI on their own farms and at the Extension Learning Farm in Canton. In addition we want to learn to collect and extend ram semen so that in the future we can purchase rams together and use them on multiple farms. Our long term goals include a stable of tested rams and eventually a test station to progeny test rams. Rams born to AI sires will be sold throughout the region improving both the income of the farmers selling them and the genetics of the farms buying them.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    There will be three training sessions including the training for laparoscopy (LAI), training for fresh semen AI and collecting and extending ram semen. All activities will be advertised across the region through email lists, webpages, sheep magazines, and contact with key producers. Our theory is that sheep AI is a viable management technique on our northeast livestock farms. Our goal is ten farmers, two veterinarians, five Extension personnel, and one college intern to attend each workshop (minimum). Two farmers will adopt the practice and be successful at producing AI sired offspring the first fall and five additional farmers within 3 years. Twenty-five farms will purchase breeding stock that has been AI sired within the 3 years. The first step will be to bring in an instructor to teach laparoscopy artificial insemination (LAI) to producers and the veterinarians. We have spoken with several possible instructors who are interested in traveling to Northern New York and teaching an all day workshop on sheep AI using Laparoscopy. Currently, laparoscopy is the most successful method of artificial insemination in sheep because the cervix in sheep is very convoluted and the semen cannot be deposited in the uterus the way it is in cattle AI. The frozen semen available now is not viable enough to swim through the cervix so it is inserted through the flank by laparoscopic surgery. A veterinarian must be present and more equipment and synchronization of the ewes is necessary. The classes would include synchronizing and preparing ewes for the procedure, equipment needed, how to work with your veterinarian and actual demonstrations of the procedure. We will open the class to any producers or veterinarians that are interested in attending. The Extension Learning Farm in Canton, NY would be a natural place to hold it because we have a barn classroom and have sheep that can be used for the demonstration aspects of the class. Some producers will elect to try it on their own flock. If they work together to import the frozen semen and to synchronize their flocks, they can also share the cost of the veterinarian and technician to do the procedure. Sheep producers in the northern part of New York State have a history of working together to market their lambs and to run the wool pool. Working together to bring AI to the area will be a natural extension of that cooperation. The second step (and the one we are most excited about) will be to learn more about fresh semen AI (VAI). VAI is desirable because there are no invasive procedures and the ewes are basically inseminated with a syringe inserted into the vagina. VAI is challenging because the usual methods for freezing ram semen make the sperm less viable and unable to swim through the cervix. Therefore, fresh semen is usually used. In France, for example, they maintain a ram test station similar to our cattle AI organizations. The rams are progeny tested. Farmers chose a ram from the book and synchronize their ewes. When the ewes are in heat, the rams are collected in the morning and the ewes are bred later in the day. There are also farmers in Europe that are freezing semen and using it successfully to VAI ewes on their natural heats. We need to find out what that method is and learn to do it. This would eliminate the need to synchronize the ewes to coincide with the fresh collection of semen. Many farmers do not want to use the synchronizing hormones if it is not necessary. Our group has also secured interest from possible instructors for that part of the course. We need two workshops. One will be on how to do fresh semen AI, including semen handling, how to detect heats, how to handle the ewe at insemination, the types of semen preservation and what is most successful. We also have some contacts in Europe from our past visits and some that have visited the United States. The third workshop will be on how to collect and extend ram semen and how to preserve the viability – whether frozen or fresh - for use in fresh semen AI would follow. All of these workshops would be open to all producers and veterinarians. The long term goal is to be able to take advantage of a ram located in another part of the country by having him collected and overnight shipped to our lab to be extended and used on synchronized ewes. Another option would be to work together to purchase a tested ram and keep him at the Extension Learning Farm and collect and use him on cooperating farms. This model could be used all over the region if groups of sheep farmers want to work together. The grant will provide training for collecting and extending the semen with an extender appropriate for fresh semen AI (VAI). We will also need to learn more about how to detect ewes in heat and also how to synchronize them better. Some European producers have figured out a way to keep frozen semen viable enough to do VAI allowing them to do VAI on natural heats rather than synchronizing the ewes to be bred. Progress will be measured by farmer participation in the workshops initially. Another measure will be how many go on to try it on their farms within 16 months and how many intend to try it within 3 years. Another measure will be how many farms buy breeding stock that has been AI sired within 3 years. A pre and post test will be given at the workshops and a survey or their intent will also be filled out. Follow up will be by phone contact. Our project results will be disseminated through articles in Extension publications and sheep magazines. Progress and results will be reported in the Sheep and Goat Newsletter that goes out monthly by email to over 250 sheep farmers in the northeast. The newsletter is also posted at several websites (the North New York Extension site, possibly other Extension sites) on-line. Training, progress and results will also be shared at sheep producer meetings across Northern New York (spring and fall Sheep Weeks are held every year) and at other places around the northeast region by Extension personnel sharing information at meetings or through webinars. Information will be presented at the Cornell Sheep Symposium when enough information has been gathered. Sheep producers sharing with other producers through direct contacts and panel discussions at meetings will also help spread the word and success stories will increase the acceptance and use of sheep AI.

    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.