Sheep AI allows sheep farmers to invest in superior rams

There are massive opportunities for commercial sheep flocks to benefit from cervical artificial insemination (AI) and there is still time for farmers to consider trialling it this autumn.

One benefit of cervical AI is that it allows farmers to invest more in superior genetics.

“Instead of buying 10 tups at £500 each, a farmer can buy one superior tup at £5,000 to serve the same number of ewes,” says Dan Fawcett of D and C Fawcett Sheep Breeding Services, Penrith, Cumbria. “And the cervical AI kit isn’t expensive.”

Although there are limited training opportunities for sheep producers to learn how to carry out cervical AI, Mr Fawcett says the skill is not difficult to master.

“Cervical AI using fresh semen from a small number of very good-quality tups gives flock owners a fantastic opportunity to improve the quality of their lamb crop.

“And there are management advantages, too. Running in-lamb ewes all served at the same time is easier and lambing is much tighter. Being able to buy fewer, but better quality, tups is a huge benefit.

“Collecting fresh semen isn’t difficult. All the kit to undertake cervical AI can be bought for less than £200. It’s dead easy. It’s like bucket chemistry,” says Mr Fawcett.

Compared with laparoscopic AI (where semen is deposited directly into the uterine horns) it isn’t possible to stretch the same amount of semen over as many ewes using cervical AI, but it’s a more straightforward procedure. A simple dagging crate will hold a ewe in position.

Conception rates with cervical AI are usually about 65% for flocks undertaking it for the first time, although experienced operators can get up to 80% or even 90% using good rams.

“The big hurdle with cervical AI is a lack of technical know-how among farmers, but if more sheep producers realised how straightforward it is and looked at the advantages they can gain, I’m sure we’d see more interest.

“It’s this lack of awareness that’s holding sheep producers back, but if more started to look at it closely, I’m sure it would be used more widely and in turn that would encourage more training opportunities to be provided.”

There’s still plenty of time for sheep producers to try cervical AI this season. Even though it’s too late to get on a training course, there are operators providing a service to commercial flock owners.

Mr Fawcett says “first timers” should identify a group of their ewes early for the initial AI programme.

“The best advice is to have a practice with a few ewes to see how you get on with them and if you get a good result, you can programme another batch of ewes. Treatments to induce oestrus can be used or even teaser rams.”

The cost a ewe is based on the sponges and the PMSG injection. It can vary depending on the source of supply, but should be about £5 a ewe in total.

Sponges should be inserted for 10-12 days and followed by a dose of PMSG at a rate depending on the breed of sheep and the time of year. Ewes need to be AI’d within 48 hours of the PMSG injection.

See also: Condition score critical for ewe lamb performance