Tuesday, November 20, 2007

2007 EverRanch LAI

November 17, 2007

It is difficult to get a high lambing rate with traditional artificial insemination in sheep. Their cervix is convoluted and hard to penetrate, so cervical AI in sheep gets 20 to 30% lambing rates. With the high cost of importing semen ($60 to $110 per straw!), 20 to 30% is not high enough to be economically feasible. Some years ago now, laparoscopic AI was developed in sheep. The lambing rate is 70 to 80% with LAI, making the process more economically feasible. I've estimated that each LAI lamb has$100 to $150 more invested than the naturally bred lambs. When you're bringing in a new breed (Gotlands) or working with a very small gene pool (Scottish Blackface) or want characteristics from the "mother country" (Shetlands), LAI can be well worth the investment. Of course, the animals that don't work out, are just (more) expensive lamb chops. :-\

We decided to concentrate on the Gotland upbreeding program this year. We identified 16 ewes, both foundation ewes and half Gotland ewe lambs, for our LAI group this year. Another local shepherd, Joanne Martinis, became very interested in the Gotland breed after reading up on them and seeing our half Gotlands at the Puyallup Fair (see why we go to Fairs???). Joanne got together 4 foundation ewes of her own. We were disappointed to learn that due to the FMD outbreak in the UK, Gotland semen was limited this year. So both of us scaled back to 13 and 3 ewes each. As time got closer, a few more straws became available, so the final count on November 17th was 15 for us and 4 for Joanne. (Chart lists sheep, hormone dosage and time, LAI times, cleanup ram groups... details, details, and the empty straws with the teeny, tiny labels.)

We borrowed this deluxe sheep cradle from Horned Dorset breeder Peter Janicki (Thanks, Peter!)

Bunny, our Shetland-Gotland ewe lamb, demonstrates the first step - Sheep Bondage! Front and back legs are secured (???) into the cradle. It is really hard to get the legs completely secure, so a person is stationed at each hind leg to make sure they stay.

Bunny is really, really not sure about this whole Bondage thing.

Joanne's Finn ewe, Zilla, goes toes up in the cradle.

Here are Dave, Joanne, Martin and Zilla, deep into the LAI process.

Dave takes a split second to mug for the camera while Martin gets the straw of little wigglers ready for their chance at fame!

Martin has plunger at the ready to deposit millions of eager sperm in the sweet spot. Each of us got to push the plunger (highlighted below) to inseminate our own sheep.

Did you notice that really cool headband that Joanne is wearing? That was her first spinning and knitting project! I thought it was wonderful - and really fit the cool day. In the morning it POURED rain. We usually have "rain" that goes on and on and on, but doesn't amount to a lot of inches at once. Not Saturday morning while I was finishing up on fences and getting pens ready for the post-LAI groups. Fortunately, it wasn't too cold, lower 50's, and the 2 heaters and 1 heat lamp in the garage kept it from being too cold. Sunday, the temperature dropped another 10 degrees, and Monday didn't break 40. But I digress....
The Headband!

Post LAI, the ewes should be as stress free as possible for at least 6 weeks (40 days and 40 nights....). I shuffled breeding groups - or should I say "cleanup" groups many times and finally came up with something that would work. Below is my farm map with breeding groups listed, locations on the map. Don't feel bad if it looks like gibberish. I got a lot of kidding about my detailed "Engineered" paperwork. At least each sheep had a destination. :-)

If you're really curious... (any Engineers out there???) ... The big rectangle is a planview of our farm boundaries, the "L" shape is the house, little rectangle next to it the Garage/LAI Surgery Room, big rectangle in lower right is the Arena. On the bottom of the arena is the Sheepie Hilton extension. The dogleg in the middle is the lane and its "kneecap" is the "Barn". Circles are various trees and bushes. Groups are listed in the margins, each lettered with corresponding letter on the map. Clear as mud? ;-)

The next morning found the Bubba (and Buddy) group lazing around in the Hilton. The LAI girls were taking it pretty easy, especially Asa (not in this photo) and Bibb (upper left), the oldest ones in our AI group. Standing is Bitterroot Bessie - NOT one of the AI girls, she gets to commune with Buddy as a primary. :-) She might wonder (if sheep are prone to such wonderings) why the others are being such stick in the muds on such a fine day. But, being a sheep, she seems content to just hang with them.

141 days and counting :-)

- Franna

(More photos are on our website: http://everranch.com/Farm/Sheep/2008Lambs/2007LAI/LAIPhotos.html )


Kathy L. said...

Sounds perfectly normal and natural to have a plan such as yours - at least to me, "Scotty", er, Franna! (Get it? Scotty - Engineer, works with Scottish sheep?)

Now I have to ask - with straws, Tech and pre-breeding procedures, just how much does one sheep cost to AI?

Franna said...

Cost... well, we don't have all the actual expenses yet. Here's a pretty close estimate:
$9.50 for hormones - sponges+PMS-G
$6.50 setup
$32 AI procedure
$15 travel expenses
$15 misc supplies and equipment
That adds up to about $78 per ewe; add on the semen cost of $105 (Gotland) and we're up to $183 per ewe. Last year we did 9 ewes and raised 15 lambs at a cost of about $110 per lamb added to the usual costs of raising a lamb. whew. It's not prohibitive, but not "cheap" by any stretch.
- Franna

Kathy L. said...

No, not cheap, Franna...but you also get what you pay for. This seems a logical way to get started in your Gotlands. I never thought to ask the Stansborough people how they got their herd started up in NZ. Maybe we should go ask, eh? :)
I know a place to stay in Auckland! :)

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

Franna, you should also mention the sliding scale for the LAI, based on the number of ewes you have. If I brought Martin to my place for just a few, the price per ewe goes WAY up!

Do you put the LAI ewes in with the clean-up ram right away? Isn't there a chance they would get covered by the clean-up ram in the same cycle, confusing parentage?

shepherdchik said...

Michelle: I was wondering that same thing (about having the clean up ram in there right away).

Franna: this is a very interesting post! I love it. Being a medical person, I had to click over your link to look at your other website to see if there were any more, detailed, photos of the actual procedure. I can't wait to see the lambs come spring!

Franna said...

Michelle, thanks for mentioning the sliding scale. We have tried to reach at least the second level (15+ ewes) to help reduce costs. Martin's charges are shown on his website - http://www.supersire.com. I don't know how other LAI specialists break down their charges.

Cleanup rams - Technically speaking, the ewes should be safe after AI. LAI takes place slightly later than breeding normally would because the semen is deposited in the uterine horns and sperm don't have to negotiate the cervix. However, with that much at stake, we wait at least 5 days to put in the cleanup rams.
- Franna

Beth & Dennis @ Milehaus Farm said...

Franna, I really enjoyed reading about the LAI procedure. I am looking forward to seeing Gotland lamb pictures come April.
Flash's fleece is already spoken for by a local handspinner- weaver. Pressure is now on to keep it clean :-)


Franna said...

One of the Gotland/Finns is wearing a coat (Rocky Sheep Co. coat - wonderful!). Her fleece seems to be doing fine underneath. If I had more coats, more would have them! I put one on a ram lamb, it took 2 days for him to get it off both hind legs and I found him tangled in a branch. sheesh. Our 2 BFLxBL's wear coats. The coated fleeces are sooooo beautiful!!
- Franna