AI Could Expand Available Hair Sheep Genetics

A recent study found that a low-input and simple liquid semen vaginal artificial insemination protocol developed at Virginia State University would provide an effective means of enhancing the genetic potential of flocks and maximizing profits for small-scale sheep producers.

“Many small and beginning farmers in Virginia are expressing a growing interest in raising small ruminants, especially hair sheep, because they require less labor and feed inputs compared to other livestock,” read the introduction to On-Farm Validation of a Liquid Semen Vaginal Artificial Insemination Protocol in Hair Sheep by Dahlia J. O’Brien and Stephan Wildeus of Virginia State University. “Additionally, the importation of lamb has increased over the last decade (Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, 2012). This situation represents a gap in supply that small-scale/limited-resource farmers in the United States may be able to take advantage of, thereby gaining additional income from an alternative farming venture (Lowry, 2014) or through pooling of resources (Cross, Mills, & O’Conner, 1990). In spite of these circumstances, many small-scale sheep producers lack access to the desirable and affordable breeding stock (Madden, 2010) required to enhance the genetic potential of their flocks and maximize profits. There are also health risks associated with purchasing new animals. This issue is even more critical in the wake of growing anthelmintic resistance and concern over drug-resistant parasites being carried from one location to another.”

The study concluded that, “Liquid semen vaginal insemination lends itself particularly well to a regional approach of breeders’ co-ops within driving distance that can share desirable germplasm managed at selected farms. The use of AI, as described in our study, would provide an effective means of moving germplasm readily between farms to expand available hair sheep genetics in many states. AI also addresses concerns regarding disease transmission related to the introduction of live animals to closed flocks and welfare of animals associated with transport over long distances.”

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