Sustainability, welfare and sexed semen - Veterinary Practice
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Sustainability, welfare and sexed semen

“The sustainability benefits of using sexed semen mean that it is an increasingly popular choice for farmers to reduce unwanted male offspring, improve calf welfare, enhance genetic gain and increase profitability”

There is increasing pressure on the British dairy industry to maintain high welfare standards, while, at the same time, improve sustainability and productivity. This can seem a daunting proposition, yet there are some key changes that can be made to significantly contribute to progress, such as swapping to sexed semen for heifers and genetically advantageous cows.

Sexed semen produces a 90 percent sex bias for female offspring, while conventional semen leads to a surplus of unwanted male dairy calves which can increase the risk of dystocia compared to heifer calves and have a low economic value.

Dr Jude Capper, livestock sustainability consultant and ABP chair in sustainable beef and sheep production at Harper Adams University, comments: “The biggest challenge to the farming industry in maintaining healthy levels of meat and dairy in the diets of future consumers is to demonstrate that farmers are making industry-wide positive changes which will improve consumer trust. 

“The sustainability benefits of using sexed semen mean that it is an increasingly popular choice for farmers to reduce unwanted male offspring, improve calf welfare, enhance genetic gain and increase profitability, making it a win/win for both farmers and consumers.”

While the cost of sexed semen straws is still higher than conventional semen, the conception rate (CR) for sexed semen has improved over the last few years and is now only about 5 to 10 percent below that of conventional semen meaning that overall herd economics demonstrate the sexed semen benefits. 

A recent study revealed that heifer synchronisation using a six-day progesterone device/two dose prostaglandin F2 alpha (PGF) protocol using sexed semen achieved a conception rate to first AI of 53.5 percent and 62 percent in spring block-calving and autumn block-calving herds respectively. When the spring calving costs were analysed, the net benefit of the synchronisation programme was considered to be an underestimate at £88.55 per heifer.

The use of progesterone releasing devices improve the quality of pre-ovulatory follicles, provide a longer duration and enhanced expression of oestrus enabling better detection, offer more predictable ovulation and competent oocytes, while enhancing endometrial function and optimal embryo quality. PRID DELTA delivers the highest circulating progesterone levels of any device on the UK market as a result of the 29 percent larger surface area in contact with the vaginal wall and the fact that it contains 12 percent more progesterone per device.

“Sexed semen is a rapidly growing alternative to conventional semen for the artificial insemination of dairy cows and by 2021 over half of all semen sold into the dairy industry was sex-sorted, jumping from a 32 percent share the previous year,” says Katherine Timms BVetMed (Hons), MRCVS, ruminant veterinary advisor at Ceva Animal Health. “Progesterone is the mainstay of fertility management protocols in the UK and the use of progesterone releasing devices, such as PRID DELTA, before the use of FTAI protocols can enhance conception rates to first AI.”

Ceva Animal Health has recently hosted a series of webinars on “Sustainability, sexed semen and fertility management” to update farm vets on how they can promote and support the implementation of new fertility solutions for the future of dairy farming.

To view the webinars, to obtain a copy of Ceva’s snapshot on “Sexed Semen, sustainability and progesterone” or for further information on the use of progesterone releasing devices in synchronisation protocols before the use of sexed semen, please contact your local Ceva Animal Health account manager or email in.

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