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BRIDGETOWN – Barbados’ first litter of lambs was born from artificial insemination in December of this year. The lambs, which were born at the Greenland Agricultural Station, continue to progress well and will be weaned from their mothers in early 2016.
According to Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) Livestock Officer Dr Cedric Lazarus, this event represents a major advancement for the region’s livestock industry due to the difficulty of artificial insemination (AI) of sheep compared to its use in cattle and pigs.
Dr Lazarus explained that AI in sheep requires extensive training for veterinarians and technicians to fully master the techniques. The success of this initial training exercise indicates that with the proper collaboration, planning and funding, sheep AI can be successfully implemented in Barbados just as pig and dairy cattle AI has been.
Ena Harvey, Representative of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) in Barbados highlighted the importance of the adoption and utilisation of innovative breeding techniques such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer in safeguarding the sustainability of Blackbelly sheep production in Barbados.
IICA, through its collaboration with the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture and in conjunction with the Barbados Agriculture Society (BAS), the Ministry of Agriculture and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), conducted the five-day training exercise in artificial insemination in sheep production for Ministry of Agriculture technicians and farmers. The session took place at the Greenland Livestock Research Station in Barbados in July 2015.
The training exercise introduced the AI technique to government technicians and leading sheep farmers who were invited to the workshop. The routine use of AI will enable farmers to improve their productivity by having access to genetics from top quality Blackbelly rams in the island.
In theory, AI allows hundreds of offsprings to be produced from a top Blackbelly ram in a single breeding season rather than the 40-60 that is currently the norm. A solid AI programme also enables a farmer with a superior Blackbelly ram to collect, store and sell frozen semen to other sheep farmers for use in their breeding programmes.
An additional benefit of AI is that semen of superior rams, once collected and frozen in liquid nitrogen, can be available for use years or even decades after the ram has died.
The July training exercise was led by two Mexican scientists and a few of the technicians were able to practice on animals made available by Greenland. By September 2015, it was evident that several of the animals that were inseminated in the training exercise were in fact pregnant and in December a total of 11 kids were born from six pregnancies.
Artificial insemination has been used around the world as a breeding tool in livestock, particularly in dairy cattle and pigs, for decades. In the Caribbean, the technique has been employed by dairy farmers for decades and in the past few years it had been successfully introduced to pig farmers in both Jamaica and Barbados.
In the small ruminants industry, the technique was introduced to goat farmers in Jamaica about four years ago through a European Union-funded FAO project. Since then, there has been a high demand for the service by Jamaican goat farmers who are benefiting from the availability of improved genetics (from both local and overseas sources) to upgrade their flocks.
The recent successful application and outcome of the use of AI in sheep, which is considerably more difficult, bodes well for the food security of the livestock industry and the livelihood of sheep farmers in Barbados.
According to John Vaughan, Manager of the Greenland Livestock Research Station, local farmers have faced difficulties in obtaining high quality breeding animals for their herds due to the decrease in the number of local farmers who rear Blackbelly sheep.
The regional development agencies involved in the development of the small ruminant sector will continue to collaborate to develop and expand the sector in Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean region, so as to reduce the island’s and region’s reliance on imports of sheep and goat meats.
In addition to strengthening the breeding programmes, emphasis is also being placed on overall management of small ruminant farms, as well as on feeding, nutrition and marketing. (PR)