W2112: Reproductive Performance in Domestic Ruminants
Statement of Issues and JustificationThe W-1112 Regional Research Project was established in 1970 to create a cooperative research group that would combine both basic and applied expertise to determine factors, and develop methods to improve the fertility of domestic ruminants in the Western states. The philosophy and mission for the W-1112 established more than forty 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.
The project serves as a forum for the development and conduct of collaborative studies aimed at solving problems that limit the reproductive performance of domestic livestock. Scientists associated with the project collectively possess expertise required to discover basic physiological mechanisms and translate such new knowledge to the management of domestic ruminants. Some stations are best equipped to evaluate the applicability of their results in production situations. In contrast, other stations have the animal resources to test new treatment paradigms arising from the basic studies, but do not have the laboratory facilities (or modern equipment) necessary to perform the basic research studies. These circumstances create an ideal situation for our regional collaborative project. Renewal of the W-1112 Regional Research Project is crucial because interactions among scientists with a broad range of expertise are necessary for the discovery, translation, and transfer of new knowledge to the livestock industry.
Poor reproductive efficiency in domestic ruminants limits profitability and sustainability of animal production systems in the West and throughout the nation. Therefore, we seek to continue our work in this critical area. Participation in the project since its inception has greatly increased in scope and is now comprised of scientists located in the states of Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. We believe that the challenges that are shared among the Western states are best addressed by combining the expertise and resources from all the states. The addition of leading reproductive biologists from states outside the West has increased the breadth and greatly strengthened the scientific expertise of W-1112. Renewal of this multi-state project is essential to continue to provide a forum that stimulates the development of new hypotheses, conduct of new collaborative research projects, sharing of resources, and identification and testing of new methods to manage reproduction in domestic ruminants.
The ruminant livestock industry is a critical component of the agricultural industry in the states represented by scientists involved with the project. The dairy, beef, and sheep industries together contribute approximately $63 billion in farm receipts and an estimated overall economic impact on the nation's economy of $332.5 billion. In addition, direct and indirect employment related to the production and processing of these animals or their products supports over 2.3 million jobs (Otto and Lawrence, 2002; Cryan, 2004; Shiflett, J.S. 2008). Over 50 percent of the nation's breeding cows (beef and dairy) and 64 percent of its breeding ewes exist in states represented by participating W-1112 scientists (USDA-NASS, 2010).
W-1112's goals are consistent with the USDA 2010-2015 Strategic Plan's Goals 1, 3 and 4. Specific objects addressed by the project include Objective 1.1 (Enhance rural prosperity), Objective 1.3 (Support a sustainable and competitive agricultural system), Objective 3.2 (Enhance America's ability to develop and trade agricultural products derived from new technologies), Objective 4.1 (Increase access to nutritious food), and Objective 4.4 (Protect agricultural health by minimizing major diseases and pests to ensure access to safe, plentiful, and nutritious food). Our primary stakeholders are famers and ranchers in states represented by scientists participating in the project, but there is broad applicability of our work nation-wide. Our secondary stakeholders are the consumers of animal products that benefit from the reduced prices associated with efficient animal production systems. Our tertiary stakeholders are the citizens of communities 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 economies.
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 extended postpartum anestrus, low fertility, and lighter calves at weaning. In the beef industry alone, the cost of infertility to U.S. producers was estimated to be over $1.06 billion annually (Lamb, et al., 2008). Sheep producers also miss out on the potential for added revenue by not realizing the genetic potential for lambing rates in their flocks. Finally, new challenges are faced by farms and ranches managing domesticated exotic ruminants whose reproductive physiology is relatively unknown.
Sub-optimal reproductive efficiency of domestic ruminants and feed costs associated with producing those animals are major obstacles to maintaining the profitability and sustainability of livestock production enterprises. Up to 70 percent of costs associated with producing viable offspring can be attributed to feed required to maintain their dams during gestation. Likewise, decreased fertility resulting from delayed onset of puberty, prolonged postpartum anestrous intervals, early embryonic mortality, and seasonality of breeding continues limit production. One of the objectives of our work in W-1112 is to provide the scientific and technical expertise that will encourage development and application of science-based management tools to improve the productivity and profitability of livestock producers. In the current project plan we expect to increase our efforts to bring knowledge to producers and help them make decisions based on sound science while at the same time, expanding our understanding of factors that affect reproductive efficiency.
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 especially in the arid western regions where animals cannot be confined to small pastures for more than short periods of time. However, the improvement in animal health and productivity in the dairy industry has not gone unnoticed and use of these reproductive technologies in beef cattle and sheep is expected to increase during the next decade as methods to increase fertility and reduce costs and labor associated with the techniques are developed and proven reliable. Work from W-1112 members has helped refine, simplify, explain, and standardize many of the estrous synchronization protocols (see http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/estroussynch/wester014.pdf), but more needs to be done as is discussed in later sections.
An issue of concern to livestock producers is animal welfare. We are expanding our efforts to develop new management strategies to evaluate and improve animal well-being while maintaining or improving productivity. Producers have been eager to adopt new management strategies that utilize more humane and/or less stressful practices while improving the productivity of their livestock and look to members of this committee to develop these.
To succinctly present the research and activities conducted or planned by members of W-1112, subsequent discussions are subdivided into areas of biological function within animals. Clearly, however, the development and testing of new technologies capable of enhancing livestock industry requires an integrated understanding of those areas.
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