Scanning results highlight potential for AI in commercial ewes

// Breeding and Genetics

Scanning results from an artificial insemination programme on Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Future Farm highlights the potential for commercial sheep farmers to use this technology as a tool to speed genetic gain.

Image of Digby Heard

In April, 90 ewes on Lanercost, the organisations North Canterbury hill country farm, were artificially inseminated (AI) by the farm’s manager Digby Heard, using the cervical AI technique.

This technique is commonly used in other sheep farming countries because it is faster, less expensive than the laproscopic method and does not require skilled technicians.

Dan Brier, B+LNZ’s General Manager of Farming Excellence, says sheep studs typically use the laproscopic method because it is associated with higher conception results, but scanning of the AI ewes on Lanercost was 47.4%, which was particularly pleasing given the drought conditions in autumn and that this was the first-time Digby had carried out the procedure.

“What this means is that on one day, without having anyone come to the farm, we have 43 ewes in lamb to a specific ram. If we chose to, we could repeat that for a week and have 300 in lamb to him.”

The AI programme was part of the Rapid Genetic Gain project on Lanercost. This project aims to define the effectiveness, speed of change and cost of breeding technologies and determine if sexed semen can be used successfully in sheep. It will also compare cervical to laproscopic AI using sexed semen. 

The project takes into account the practicalities for commercial farmers to execute a cervical AI programme.

Dan says sexed semen wasn’t available this year, so they went ahead with the AI programme using fresh semen collected from the Lanercost ram flock as a proof of concept and as an opportunity to teach Digby how to cervically inseminate ewes.

On Lanercost, rapid genetic gain technologies will be used to speed the transition to a low methane emitting flock, but Dan says these technologies could be applied to any targeted traits.

“Lanercost will be a good testing ground for artificial breeding technologies such as artificial insemination and will hopefully give commercial farmers the confidence to invest in them if they are wanting to change the genetic profile of their flock,” says Dan.

He says while the focus on Lanercost is transitioning to a low methane flock, artificial breeding could be used to speed the genetic gain in any number of heritable traits.

“With consumer pressure increasing all the time, farmers need tools to be able to use high merit rams over a bigger proportion of their flock while keeping a lid on costs. For some farmers it might be finer wool but for others it could be health traits like Facial Eczema."