W1112: Reproductive Performance in Domestic Ruminants
Statement of Issues and JustificationThe W-112 Regional Research Project was established in 1970 with the goal of creating a cooperative research group that could bring both basic and applied expertise to bear on factors that limit the fertility of domestic ruminants in the Western states. Poor reproductive efficiency in domestic ruminants is a growing problem in the West that is limiting profitability and sustainability of animal production systems. Therefore, we seek to continue our work in this critical area and renewal of this multi-state project with the goal of addressing factors that limit the fertility of domestic ruminants in the Western states. This goal is consistent with Strategic Goal 1 (Enhance economic opportunities for agricultural producers,) of the CSREES Strategic Plan (2004-2009). Objective 1.5 under this goal enjoins the contribution of "science-based information, analysis and education to promote efficiency of agricultural production systems". Our efforts in this regard will be evaluated under performance criteria 1.5.7: Increase and improve reproductive performance of animals (CSREES problem area 301); 1.5.11: Improve understanding of fundamental animal physiological processes (CSREES problem area 305); 1.5.13: and Develop and implement comprehensive animal production management systems (CSREES problem area 307). Our primary stakeholders are farmers and ranchers in the Western U.S., but we realize the broad applicability of our work to these industries nation-wide. Our secondary stakeholders are the consumers of animal products that benefit from the reduced prices that are associated with efficient animal production systems. Our tertiary stakeholders are the citizens of communities in the West whose economies are improved by their proximity to profitable and sustainable animal industries and that benefit from the multiplier effects these industries have on community economic development.
Focusing on reproductive efficiency in the Western states is reflective of importance of Western agriculture to our nation's food supply and the unique features of the West (climate, topography, flora, endemic disease organisms, and demographics) that result in unique management challenges to Western livestock producers. Indeed, the Western and Midwestern states included in the W112 project encompass a land mass that represents more than 50% of the US total and includes more than 55 million cattle and calves and 5 million sheep.
The philosophy and mission for the W-112 established more than thirty five years ago continues to be the guiding tenet of our group; that is, cooperative multi-state research, that provides product and technique development and outreach for the benefit of animal producers in the Western region.
Reproductive efficiency is widely regarded as the most limiting factor to profitability in animal production systems. Nowhere is this more evident than in the modern dairy industry. Beef producers also suffer as a result of delayed onset of puberty and rebreeding, low fertility, and lighter calves at weaning. Sheep producers miss out on the potential for added revenue by not realizing the genetic potential for lambing rates of their flocks. Finally, new challenges are faced by Western farms and ranches managing domesticated exotic ruminants whose reproductive physiology is relatively unknown.
Although artificial insemination and embryo transfer have been widely accepted and adopted by the dairy industry, these techniques are less commonly used in the beef cattle and sheep industries. However, the improvement in animal health and productivity in the dairy industry has not gone unnoticed and use of these reproductive technologies in the beef cattle and sheep industries is expected to increase during the next decade. Despite recent advances in reproductive technology, cattle producers are still faced with the persistent problem of low fertility.
One of the objectives of our work in the W-112 project is to provide the scientific and technical expertise that will support and encourage development and application of science-based management tools that will improve the productivity and profitability of livestock producers in the Western states. In the current project we will continue and increase our efforts to bring knowledge to the producers to help them make decisions that are rooted in sound science while at the same time, expanding our understanding of factors that affect reproductive efficiency.
The inventory of livestock in the W-112 member states (Table 1) represents a significant fraction of the US total. Indeed, the value of sheep and cattle and their products, produced by farms and ranches in W-112 member states exceeds 44 billion dollars. These figures do not account for the total economic impact of agricultural enterprises on the economies of Western States. For example, recent estimates from California put the total economic impact of the dairy industry in that state at greater than 44 billion dollars. These figures indicate that livestock production is a critical component of the economic health of the Western states and, moreover, that the US supply of livestock and products (meat, dairy, wool, etc.) is dependent on the production efficiency of Western farms and ranches.
Table 1. Cattle and sheep inventory in the W-112 member states a and the value of livestock and products sold (See Attachment #2)
One of the more notable statistics in Table 1 is the growth of the dairy industry in the West. Indeed more than half of the U.S dairy herd now resides in W-112 member states, up nearly 8% between 1997 and 2002. This rate of increase has continued through 2005. For example Idaho recently passed Minnesota and Pennsylvania to become the 4th highest state in total milk production (NASS August 2005). The combined cow herds in only two Western states, ID and CA, account for nearly one quarter of the national herd. In the West, cows are increasingly located on large, modern dairy facilities with average herd sizes approaching 1000 cows, and with many dairies running 5000 cow units. Consolidation and growth in the dairy industry in the West is reminiscent of that which occurred in the poultry and swine industries during the latter half of the twentieth century. While this consolidation has allowed for increased efficiencies and economies of scale, it has created severe challenges for managing reproduction that are unique to the larger dairies in Western states.
The beef industry has failed to take advantage of potential genetic improvements afforded by more widespread use of AI. Estimates of the percentage of beef cattle that are artificially inseminated are below 10%, and this has changed little during the last decade. In fact between 1993 and 2002 the U.S. experienced an approximate 8% decline in sales of beef semen. During this same period, Brazil recorded a 168% increase (NAAB, 2003, ASBIA, 2003). Work from W-112 members has helped refine, simplify, explain and standardize many of the synchronization protocols (see http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/estroussynch/western014.pdf ), but more needs to be done.
Another issue of concern in the Western states is animal welfare and we are expanding our efforts to develop new management strategies that will improve animal well-being while maintaining or improving productivity. Producers in this region have been eager to adopt new management strategies that utilize more humane practices and improve productivity of their livestock. Producers look to members of this committee to develop more humane strategies that improve production efficiency.
We believe that the challenges that are shared among the Western states are best addressed by combining the expertise and resources of representatives from all the states. In addition, we have greatly benefited from the participation of experts from states outside the West. Thus, membership in the W-112 project includes leading reproductive biologists from Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio and Texas.
To effectively address the critical aspects of reproductive biology affecting reproductive efficiency in the Western states the members of the W-112 project have divided into research teams or workgroups. These workgroups place particular emphasis on those components of the reproductive process that limit fertility.
The Gonadal Development and Function Workgroup examines the molecular, cellular, and endocrine mechanisms that control gonadal development, folliculogenesis, spermatogenesis, ovulation, and subsequent luteal function. The members of this group include University and ARS scientists from CA, OR, KS, WA, ID, MT, WY, CO, NM, AZ, AK, NE, ND, TX, MN, MI, OH, and MO.
The Uterine Biology Research Group examines the molecular and cellular aspects of embryo development, implantation, maternal recognition of pregnancy, placentation and fetal growth and development. The members of this group include representatives from CA, WA, ID, ID, WY, CO, MT, OR, OH, HI, ND, TX, and MO.
The Reproductive Technology Research Group includes members from all participating states. The charge to this group is the development and optimization of management protocols, treatment regimens and tools/techniques that will facilitate and encourage the use of artificial insemination and other modern reproductive technologies by cattle and sheep producers in the Western states.
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