Sheep artificial insemination to improve lamb marketing in the Northeast
Our semen handling workshop was successfully held on January 14, 2015 with John Parks from Cornell instructing. Ron Kuck (Ext. in Jefferson County), Betsy Hodge (PI and Extension in St. Lawrence County), Molly Parent (Intern from Vermont), Brent Buchanan (Extension St. Lawrence County) attended. Two producers were scheduled to attend but the extra cold weather caused them to stay home. Topics included collection, extension, cooling and warming semen.
Over the summer our Cornell intern (Conor McCabe) and Betsy Hodge practiced collecting the rams on the premises. We were moderately successful but it was good practice getting the AV ready, etc. If we had a ewe in heat (natural or induced) the collection was usually successful.
Harold Boomhower (sheep producer) was schedule to synchronize his ewes this fall. We were planning to collect our rams, extend and cool the semen, drive to his farm and inseminate his ewes. A nearby farmer offered Harold a large sum of money for his farm and our plans fell through. He is still interested in working with us in the future from his new farm in western New York.
As a back-up we synchronized 8 ewes from the Extension Learning Farm flock and collected our rams and a ram delivered to the farm for the day by Bryan Thompson (on our committee), extended the semen and vaginally inseminated the ewes on November 13th,2015.
After noticing that we were constantly looking through long articles for a few pieces of information we decided one thing that we could do to contribute to the sheep artificial insemination (AI) information would be to write a set of fact sheets that contained concise information in an organized format. Those are being prepared and should be done in January 2016.
VAI = Vaginal artificial insemination
LAI = Laparoscopic artificial insemination
Our objective during the year was to encourage and monitor AI use among sheep producers. As mentioned above, we had one producer lined up but that fell through. We substituted the Extension Learning Farm flock due to the late notice that the producer could not participate. There were other farmers interested and we will include them this coming year. Some of the interested producers did not have breeds that were compatible with our rams that have experience being collected. Now that we have more experience I think we could work with them to find a ram of the correct breed, synchronize a ewe at the farm where the ram is located and then go collect, extend, travel back to the original farm and inseminate. We would still like to try collecting a ram and shipping the semen somewhere, even to ourselves, to see how it travels. We have the shipping container and plan to try that soon.
The AI laboratory at the Extension Learning Farm is evolving with its own refrigerator and a new table set-up. In the process of actually inseminating ewes we learned what items to have handy, what things we need more of, and what things we need to purchase. Fortunately we have another grant which will allow us to purchase some items for the lab.
We have not been successful in getting a group of farmers to purchase a ram together, to house at the Extension Learning Farm, to use for VAI. Another option would be to have the Extension Association purchase a ram that the other farmers approve of and then use the ram to breed some ewes on their farms.
We have received numerous email about AI with sheep from all over the northeast. We acknowledged that there is very little information that is easy to access by the normal producer. We are hoping the Sheep AI Factsheets will fill this niche. We are using pictures we have taken during our insemination attempts.
It has also become clear that to really take advantage of sheep AI we need to work on sources of production tested semen. That requires progeny testing or lambs. My interns and I have done some preliminary work looking into ways that other countries are accomplishing progeny testing. I believe it will be the topic of a future grant.
Finding out how to import semen and what countries we can import semen from has remained a nut that is hard to crack. We are still working on that process.
- Adoption is slow among producers due to the lack of veterinarians willing to do the procedure and the rules that it has to be a veterinarian.
- Adoption is slow due to the lack of production tested semen
- Adoption is slow due to the cost of equipment to do Laparoscopy
- Interest among producers is there.
- 8 ewes were bred VAI at the Extension Learning Farm in November 2015
- Another participating farmer, Bryan Thompson brought over his ram for us to collect and inseminate our ewes with as well.
- Factsheets are being developed – should be done in January 2016 – an article about them and our project will be written to promote the factsheets and sheep AI.
- The educators involved have learned a great deal and have answered many questions on the phone and in emails.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The success or failure of our attempt at VAI will help determine our success at recruiting farmers to try VAI on their flocks next fall. There are farmers interested in VAI and others interested in cooperating to bring in a technician to work with their veterinarian to do LAI.
Factsheets being developed will include a list of useful resources. Farmers interested in practical information about sheep AI will be able to use the factsheets to help them made decisions about whether to use AI in their flock or not.
Experiences this year have helped us further develop the lab set-up for sheep AI. Our next project need to be developing a progeny testing system for lambs to help create worthy sires to use for AI.
We are a long way from impacting the consistency of lambs marketed in the northeast but we are hopeful that the long term vision will be reached step by step.
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