W3112: Reproductive Performance in Domestic Ruminants

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Active


The W-112 Regional Research Project was established in 1970 to create a cooperative research group combining both basic and applied expertise to determine factors, and develop methods to improve fertility of domestic ruminants in the Western states.  The philosophy and mission for the W-3112 project, established more than forty years ago, continues to be the guiding tenet of our group; that is, cooperative multi-state research, providing product and technique development and outreach for the benefit of animal producers in the Western region and beyond. 


The project serves as a forum for the development and conduct of collaborative studies aimed at solving problems that limit the reproductive performance of domestic livestock.  Scientists associated with the project collectively possess expertise required to discover basic physiological mechanisms and translate such new knowledge to the management of domestic ruminants.  Some stations are best equipped to evaluate the applicability of their results in production situations.  In contrast, other stations have the animal resources to test new treatment paradigms arising from the basic studies, but do not have the laboratory facilities (or modern equipment) necessary to perform the basic research studies.  These circumstances create an ideal situation for our regional collaborative project.  Renewal of the W-2112 Regional Research Project is crucial because interactions among scientists with a broad range of expertise are necessary for the discovery, translation, and transfer of new knowledge to the livestock industry.   


Poor reproductive efficiency in domestic ruminants limits profitability and sustainability of animal production systems in the West and throughout the nation.  Therefore, we seek to continue our work in this critical area.  Participation in the project since its inception has greatly increased in scope and is now comprised of scientists located in the states of Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming.  We believe the reproductive challenges important in the Western states and shared by other states are best addressed by combining the expertise and resources from all regions.  The addition of leading reproductive biologists from states outside the West has increased the breadth and greatly strengthened the scientific expertise of the W-2112 (W-3112) project.  Renewal of this multi-state project is essential to continue to provide a forum that stimulates the development of new hypotheses, conduct of new collaborative research projects, sharing of resources, and identification and testing of new methods to manage reproduction in domestic ruminants. 


The livestock industry is a critical component of the agricultural industry in the states represented by scientists involved with the project.  The dairy, beef, and sheep industries together contribute approximately $81.5 billion in farm receipts and an estimated overall production value of $192 billion.  In addition, direct and indirect employment related to the production and processing of these animals or their products supports over 2.3 million jobs (Otto and Lawrence, 2002; Cryan, 2004; Shiflett, J.S. 2008).  Over 64 percent of the nation’s breeding cows (beef and dairy) and 76 percent of the US sheep inventory exist in states represented by participating W-3112 scientists (USDA-NASS, 2012). 


W-3112’s goals are consistent with the USDA 2010-2015 Strategic Plan’s Goals 1, 3 and 4.  Specific objectives addressed by the project include Objective 1.1 (Enhance rural prosperity), Objective 1.3 (Support a sustainable and competitive agricultural system), Objective 3.1 (Ensure U.S. Agricultural resources contribute to enhanced global food security), Objective 3.2 (Enhance America’s ability to develop and trade agricultural products derived from new technologies), Objective 4.1 (Increase access to nutritious food), and Objective 4.4 (Protect agricultural health by minimizing major diseases and pests to ensure access to safe, plentiful, and nutritious food).  Our primary stakeholders are farmers and ranchers in states represented by scientists participating in the project, but there is broad applicability of our work nation-wide.  Our secondary stakeholders are the consumers of animal products that benefit from the reduced prices associated with efficient animal production systems.  Our tertiary stakeholders are the citizens of communities whose economies are improved by their proximity to profitable and sustainable animal industries and that benefit from the multiplier effects these industries have on community economies. 


Reproductive efficiency is widely regarded as the most limiting factor to profitability in animal production systems.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the modern dairy industry.  Beef producers also suffer as a result of delayed onset of puberty and extended postpartum anestrus, low fertility, and lighter calves at weaning.  In the beef industry alone, the cost of infertility to U.S. producers was estimated to be over $1.06 billion annually (Lamb, et al., 2008).  Sheep producers also miss out on the potential for added revenue by not realizing the genetic potential for lambing rates in their flocks.  Finally, new challenges are faced by farms and ranches managing domesticated exotic ruminants whose reproductive physiology is relatively unknown. 


Sub-optimal reproductive efficiency of domestic ruminants and feed costs associated with producing those animals are major obstacles to maintaining the profitability and sustainability of livestock production enterprises.  Up to 70 percent of costs associated with producing viable offspring can be attributed to feed required to maintain their dams during gestation.  Likewise, decreased fertility resulting from delayed onset of puberty, prolonged postpartum anestrous intervals, early embryonic mortality, and seasonality of breeding continues to limit production.  One of the objectives of our work in W-3112 is to provide the scientific and technical expertise that will encourage development and application of science-based management tools to improve the productivity, efficiency, and profitability of livestock producers.  In the current project plan we expect to increase our efforts to bring knowledge to producers helping them make decisions based on sound science while at the same time, expanding our understanding of factors that affect reproductive efficiency. 


For the current project, research will be focused in four main areas: mechanisms of ovulation and potential causes of anovulation, establishment of pregnancy, fetal development/prenatal programing that affects fetal development, and male reproduction. 

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