- What was the trial all about, and who was it run by?
The trial investigated the effectiveness of a Scandinavian sheep Artificial Insemination (AI) method under UK conditions, and was run by Edinburgh University with partial funding by AHDB Beef and Lamb.
- What is the ‘Scandinavian Method’?
The Scandinavian AI method involves the deposition of frozen-thawed (as opposed to fresh) semen at the cervix of the ewe, using vaginal application (as opposed to surgical entry). Crucially, no drugs or hormonal treatment are used in this method, ewes are synchronised using a vasectomised (teaser) ram and inseminated as and when they show oestrous behaviour.
- What practice is commonplace in the UK at the moment, and how effective is it?
At the moment, the common method of AI in sheep is laparoscopic – where semen is put directly into the reproductive tract via incisions in the underside of the ewe (this of course requires a veterinarian). Additionally, synchronisation of oestrous is induced using drug treatment. The success rate of this method is fairly high, with conception rates averaging 60-70% (success is largely dependent on ewe management). However, due to the labour intensity of the method, and expertise required, it can be costly.
- How successful was the Scandinavian method?
This trial indicated that conception rates of 50% were achievable, which is in line with what is achieved in Sweden. However, refinement of the technique in Norway means that they experience conception rates of around 67%.
- What does this mean for sheep producers?
Laparoscopic AI does outperform the Scandinavian method when it comes to conception rates, however the rate achieved by the Scandinavian method is perfectly acceptable. Due to its relative simplicity, the Scandinavian technique could be much cheaper to implement, and therefore could promote greater use of AI in the UK sheep industry. Further work is needed to analyse the viability of the method in the UK, and investigate whether greater conception rates can be achieved.