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!)
Dave takes a split second to mug for the camera while Martin gets the straw of little wigglers ready for their chance at fame!
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 :-)
(More photos are on our website: http://everranch.com/Farm/Sheep/2008Lambs/2007LAI/LAIPhotos.html )