New strategies to improve reproductive success in Australian livestock

Australia is the World’s largest exporter of sheep meat and the third largest exporter of beef, with the red meat industry contributing billions of dollars to the national economy. The international market for both products is growing despite serious challenges within the Australian livestock industry, including drought and feed restriction, and now flood and bushfires.

These factors all combine to create an acute need for strategies to rapidly increase herd/flock size. Assisted reproduction technologies (ART) have the potential to do this and, when combined with genetic selection strategies, improvements in the quality of the herd and its ability to withstand external challenges can be achieved at the same time.

A recent review by Australian researchers provides a timely reminder of why, and how, knowledge of animal reproduction is being harnessed to optimise calving/lambing rates.

Much research has gone into improving the ART technologies themselves, leading to increased efficiency and decreased costs. However, the transfer of an ART-generated embryo to a recipient cow or ewe is another major determinant of the effectiveness of ART. The ability of a recipient to establish and maintain a pregnancy is a key factor in breeding success, and the major cause of reproductive loss is failure to maintain a pregnancy. The authors highlight that improvements in the selection and management of recipient animals could play a major role in increasing productivity in Australian livestock industries.