Enhancing livestock productivity - through better reproduction and breeding management
The objective of our activities is to improve livestock production and reproduction of breeds adapted to the local environments, with emphasis on the characterization of livestock genetic resources, the identification of genes controlling productive and economic traits, and the establishment or the strengthening of artificial insemination programmes. This will be achieved by increasing the capacity of member States in the use of nuclear and nuclear related technologies, in conjunction with conventional technologies and field data.
Maintaining the diversity of animal genetic resources is essential to satisfy basic human needs for food and livelihood security. Animals provide meat, milk, eggs, fibre, clothes, resources for shelter, manure for fertilizer and fuel, draught power, etc. Genetic diversity ensures that different species and breeds are able to adapt to extreme conditions of drought, humidity, cold, and heat, making it possible for humans to obtain livelihoods in inhospitable areas.
Farmers in developing countries, due to the pressure for higher animal output and the trend to promote the “advantages” of a small number of highly specialized breeds from the developed world, have been replacing or crossbreeding their local breeds with exotic animals for many years. The genetic improvement has been quite successful in many instances; however, selective inbreeding and use of highly productive genetic lines and breeds while neglecting or blanket upgrading indigenous animals with exotic breeds is leading to deterioration in genetic diversity.
Genetic biodiversity allows the expression of advantageous traits influencing adaptability to harsh environments, productivity, or disease resistance. There are indigenous breeds with some degree of enhanced resistance compared to exotic ones reared in the same environment, especially for gastro-intestinal nematode infections. Similar resistance occurs for diseases due to mycotoxins, bacterial diseases including foot rot and mastitis, ectoparasites such as flies and lice, and scrapie. However, indigenous animals are underutilized in conventional breeding programmes, due to misconceptions over their value and failure to identify breeds and animals carrying advantageous traits. The Subprogramme is conducting several studies to genetically characterize local breeds to identify beneficial traits that can be used for breed selection and therefore, supporting genetic conservation. In an on-going project, characterization and mapping of genes that control such traits, through genomic studies using radiolabelled nucleotides in DNA hybridization, DNA characterization, and hybrid mapping procedures, along with the phenotypic evaluation of the resistance to gastrointestinal parasites of sheep and goat breeds will allow the identification of single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers that would be suitable for selecting “resistant” breeding stock. The hybrid map will be a fundamental tool for member states working on the genetic characterization of small ruminants and for comparative genomic analyses.
Efficient reproduction is of the utmost importance for the sustainable improvement of animal productivity and is a critical factor influencing the economic viability of livestock farmers. Low fertility is often identified as one of the primary constraints hindering the effectiveness of livestock production systems in developing countries. Decreasing the age at first parturition, the interval from parturition to conception, interval between parturitions, and peripartal mortality, and increasing conception rate, litter size, and productive life are the key targets and crucial factors in improving livestock productivity. Increased numbers of animals also enables more intense selection of animals of superior quality to serve as parents of the next generation. Individual or corporate farmers, by using simple but well established and validated field and laboratory protocols, can monitor and evaluate the performance of both individual animals and whole herds. This will allow them to run a programme where animals can reach sexual maturity and first parturition at an earlier age, produce offspring at a higher frequency and in consequence, farmers can obtain higher and sustainable economic returns.
The monitoring of reproductive hormones, through radio-isotopic techniques such as radioimmunoassay (RIA), in conjunction with field protocols for sampling, collection of behavioural and biological data, and the use of computer software applications, developed by the IAEA such as AIDA Asia, AIDA Africa, LIMA and SPeRM has proved of enormous benefits to livestock producers and extension workers. This has included obtaining a better understanding of the reproductive physiology of livestock species, identification and amelioration of limiting factors affecting reproductive efficiency, and provision of diagnostic tools to ensure proper AI timing, to monitor ovarian cyclicity, and to identify anoestrus and non-pregnant females. It has also assisted AI centres and AI service providers on identifying management and human errors on AI, efficiency of inseminators, failures in heat detection and fertility of sires.
RIA is a mature, sound and unbeatable nuclear technique that can be established in decentralized laboratories, and only requires a basic set of equipment and consumables. The technique provides tremendous support to research and extension laboratories by assisting farmers to improve livestock productivity and income. IAEA Member States, through Technical Cooperation (TC) Projects and Coordinated Research Projects (CRP) are assisted in its application, quality control and data interpretation.
Healthy and well-fed animals, properly reared and genetically selected will grow faster and produce more and better quality yields. Based on this simple but important principle, actions should be focused on integrated programmes that address the efficient use of locally available feed resources for feeding the animals in a sustainable manner, the selection of superior animals for improved reproductive and productive efficiency, the alleviation of fertility constraints, the implementation of artificial insemination (AI) programmes, and the prevention and control of infectious diseases, with emphasis in transboundary diseases.