USDA Grant to Advance Use of Frozen Semen

US - A $900,000 USDA grant will help researchers at the University of Illinois advance the knowledge and practical use of frozen boar semen in swine herds across the United States.
calendar icon 24 December 2009
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Under the project entitled, 'Advancing Technology for Practical Use of Cryopreserved Boar Sperm to Improve Opportunities for Profitable Pork Production', collaborators will examine how US pork producers can make genetic progress and improve biosecurity measures through the use of frozen boar semen. The project is funded by an Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Neal Merchen, head of the department of animal sciences at the U of I, believes the integrated focus of this proposal to bring research and education components together through the collaboration of a multi-faceted team set it apart from the other 65 project requests.

Project director Rob Knox, an associate professor at the U of I and swine reproductive extension specialist, will lead one of the five approved projects for 2009.

Professor Knox said: "Our first aim of this project is to use multivariate analysis to identify in-vitro tests for predicting in-vivo fertility of cryopreserved boar sperm.

"Our second aim is to identify methods that maintain fertility when inseminating reduced numbers of valuable frozen sperm. Finally, we want to provide practical educational tools that help producers make decisions regarding the use of frozen boar semen for genetic advancement, productivity, and disease protection in domestic or international markets."

Nearly all US commercial pork producers use artificial insemination (AI) – a major transition from a very low percentage using AI in the early 1990s to nearly 100 per cent today.

"The fertility on US hog farms is phenomenal by any stretch," said Professor Knox. "Improvements in our swine breeding systems will come at a much slower rate now. To go from 80 per cent farrowing rates to 90 per cent requires many things to happen at the same time."

Because of this, Professor Knox began questioning US breeding systems from semen fertility to disease to AI timing in an attempt to figure out how to help pork operations achieve even higher efficiency.

Professor Knox explained: "The US pork industry relies on liquid semen with a shelf life of only five days. AI is performed using three billion sperm in multiple inseminations with pooled semen from multiple boars. This methodology, while successful at minimising infertility from poor quality semen, increases the risk for disease transmission and reduces the potential for genetic advancement by diluting semen from sires with superior traits."

The team suggests use of frozen semen can help improve rates of genetic progress, improve profitability and protect herds against disease, making pork operations more efficient and cost-effective.

Collaborators in the project include U of I faculty Dave Miller, Rebecca Krisher, Sandra Rodriguez-Zas, Peter Goldsmith and Sherrie Clark. Additional investigators include Phillip Purdy from the USDA and Ken Stalder from Iowa State University.

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