Increasing livestock production through artificial insemination (part I)

In simple words, FAO defines Family Farming as a means of organizing agricultural, forestry, fisheries, pastoral and aquaculture production which is managed and operated by a family and predominantly reliant on family labour.  But what does it mean for Rwanda’s livestock ?

A technician performing artificial insemination

A technician performing artificial insemination

This year has been dedicated to Family Farming while Rwanda has already a document dated April 2013 detailing the country’s “National Dairy Strategy.” it’s true that the dairy subsector is important to the economic development of Rwanda, and dairy offers a pathway out of poverty for large numbers of households keeping livestock and for those who provide services and value addition throughout the supply chain. As of last year, “farm gate” value of milk was approximately Rwf 79.7 billion (US$129.70 million).

The dairy subsector contributes 15% to agricultural gross domestic product (AGDP) and 6% to gross domestic product (GDP). Dairy’s contribution to GDP is likely underestimated when considering ancillary products that can be attributed to dairy, e.g. hides, meat, traction/carting and manure.

Dairy is a strategic commodity for Rwanda. The Government of Rwanda in its Vision 2020 set the country on a course in 2000 to become a middle-income country by the year 2020. The country has achieved significant positive growth since 2001 with 7 to 8% average annual rates of growth in GDP. Vision 2020 has six pillars and three cross-cutting issues, and dairy supports each pillar and cross-cutting issue directly or indirectly with its contribution to GDP, household income, and job creation, just to mention a few of the impacts.

However, the country with its scarce land that is becoming more expensive, it makes it harder to practice traditional ways of farming which require a lot of land. To address the lack of land for farming, there is government policy that promotes intensive farming, zero grazing policy. Livestock experts say this policy is not only a response to land management, but also to global warming. The policy was established after research showed that large livestock herds are a major producer of methane, a greenhouse gas.

To make the subsector more productive, improved species through artificial insemination has been one of key messages from officials to breeders at family level so that they can increase their income, with fewer expenses.

Now some people would probably argue that these are just concepts – which is quite true. And it’s reasonable that our fathers and mothers in rural areas just need practical ways on how to turn the good ideas into successes by maximizing their profits out of their cows. This pushed me to talk to two experts in milk value chain, Eng.Syridion DUSABIMANA, M.Sc and Dr.Jean Claude BYISHIMO, DVM from Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) and prepared the very resourceful piece on Artificial Insemination (AI) that can help our farmers to achieve what the Family Farming Year intends them to do.

According to the duo, the AI is the way of achieving pregnancy by means other than copulation.  It is a new generation technology which is widely used in cattle breeding and has shown its efficacy. The advantages of AI are multiples.

The bull is relatively unproductive and expensive to rear compared to the cost of the AI straw. It is also vulnerable to diseases and can even be infertile. It is the most suitable way of breeding for people who have one or a few cows than to rear a bull. The AI allows the choice of using the best bulls from progeny test of offspring of proven quality to improve the genetic make-up of the cattle population.

The AI gives possibility of collecting and using semen from old, heavy or injured bulls which are unable to copulate naturally. It makes possible the mating of animals with great differences in size without injuries. Some breeds can be aggressive and potentially dangerous. The AI is helpful to inseminate the animals that refuse to stand or accept the male at the time of estrus.

The AI helps also to avoid direct contact which can spread many devastating diseases. The tight controls exerted over donor bulls and the technical procedures greatly reduce risks of diseases.

The use of semen from selected and known bull helps a better record keeping. The semen collected from selected bulls can be stored, transported and be used for a long time and in different countries and areas around the world. It can be used even after the death of that particular sire. This offers a possibility to use semen of a bull to copulate more cows than it would copulate all its life. It helps also to maximize the use of genes from bulls of quality which they may not individually afford. This allows possibility of importing genes from other countries to improve the genetic of local livestock.

The AI offers also a possibility of flexibility. For different reasons, a herdsman may not wish all calves to be sired by a single bull with the same characteristics and it is impracticable to keep sufficient bulls to cover all possible requirements and characteristics.

With the AI, the progeny testing can be at an early age. Because of a big number of inseminations from one bull, it is possible to have a big number of calves, which facilitates the selection on offspring.

Though the AI is a good way of breeding, it is also important to know that it has some requirements. The use of the same bull in a herd for a long period can lead to inbreeding. The AI requires also a well-trained operator and special equipments. The operator uses relatively more time than natural services. The improper cleaning of instruments can lead to lower fertility. It is very important to do effective tests in order to select a bull free from genital and other diseases.

More details on the topic to come very soon…

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