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Sheep
Research_

Animal Reproduction Group

Studying reproduction in farm and wildlife animals
Researching the development and application of assisted reproductive technologies to animal production and conservation.

Our research studies both basic and applied aspects of reproduction in farm and wildlife animals, in particular the development and application of assisted reproductive technologies (e.g. AI, IVF, MOET and sperm sexing) to animal production and conservation.

It spans artificial insemination and embryo transfer, preservation of mammalian semen, sperm membrane and seminal plasma proteomics, sperm sexing and in vitro embryo production in sheep, cattle and pigs.

Our projects

Our experts: Professor Simon De Graaf, Dr Jessica Rickard

Our partners: Australian Wool Innovation, NSW Stud Merino Breeders Association, McCaughey Memorial Institute, Australian Wool Education Trust, INRAe.

We’re responsible for the development and application of most artificial breeding techniques currently employed in the Australian sheep industry. Technology transfer is continuing through undergraduate/postgraduate teaching and industry training. 

Our current work focuses on utilising state-of-the-art proteomic techniques and novel in vivo cell imaging systems to investigate the interaction between ram spermatozoa, seminal plasma and the ewe’s reproductive tract. 

Our goal is to improve the fertility of frozen-thawed ram semen delivered by AI, with particular emphasis placed on improving the transit of frozen-thawed spermatozoa through the female genital tract.

Our experts: Associate Professor Roslyn Bathgate

Our partners: South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) and SunPork Solutions.

Detecting sow reproductive state more efficiently and effectively is a current priority for the pig industry. This project will investigate real time markers of the reproductive state of sows and gilts, specifically looking to identify oestrus and ovulation, pregnancy earlier than 28-days post-insemination and to predict the onset of parturition.

The major focus of these three arms will be characterising changes in cervical mucus throughout the reproductive stages. Detecting changes in cervical mucus will lead to the development of accurate real-time, pen-side tests that are non-invasive and easy to use, so transforming the way pigs are managed.

Our experts: Professor Simon De Graaf, Dr Jessica Rickard

Our partners: Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association, McCaughey Memorial Institute, Australian Wool Education Trust and NSW Stud Merino Breeder’s Association.

This project will comprehensively analyse the impact of both male and female factors on the success of artificial insemination programs in the sheep industry.

Semen samples from each sire entered in every 2020/21 and 2021/22 AMSEA program, plus those used in the AI programs of several leading Australian studs, will be assessed post thaw for an array of in vitro quality factors and linked to pregnancy rate.

This analysis will go far beyond the current well-known measures of subjective motility, morphology and concentration and apply advanced assessment tools to investigate the contribution of sperm DNA integrity, membrane stability, oxidative status, metabolism rate, smallRNA complement and surface proteome to AI success.

From these results, we will apply statistical models to determine the most relevant in vitro predictors of fertility and make updated recommendations for the minimum semen standards required to achieve high fertility.

Aside from these sperm characteristics, other ewe and environmental factors which may influence the success of AI will be captured using a novel data capture system (GI Smart; Graham Innovations) at the time of AI, including time of AI relevant to CIDR removal, dose of PMSG used, internal fat score and the uterine tone of ewes as well as weather conditions at AI.

These data will be collected at AMSEA sites and at the AI programs of several leading studs around Australia during the 2021/22 season.

Combined, the identification of all factors which may influence success of AI will reduce the variability of AI experienced by growers around Australia and restore the confidence of this essential reproductive technology across the industry.

Technical services and consultancy

We offer commercial assessment of semen samples obtained from any domestic or non-domestic animal species. 

We offer a variety of testing options depending on your needs and have access to the latest sperm assessment techniques including Hamilton-Thorne IVOS II CASA and BD Accuri C6 flow cytometry.

Our consultancy services are offered in areas such as: 

  • artificial breeding
  • semen processing
  • industry education
  • artificial insemination 
  • Multiple ovulation embryo transfer (MOET) technology.

Please contact Associate Professor Simon de Graaf for further details and pricing enquiries.

Our people

Researcher

Professor Simon De Graaf
Academic profile

Researcher

Associate Professor Roslyn Bathgate
Academic profile

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