A $900,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will enable University of Illinois researchers to advance the knowledge and practical application of frozen boar semen in swine herds across the United States.

Project collaborators will examine how U.S. pork producers can achieve genetic progress and improve biosecurity measures through the use of frozen boar semen.

The project is funded by an Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The integrated focus of this proposal to bring research and education components together through the collaboration of a multi-faceted team set it apart from the other 65 requests, according to Neal Merchen, head of the department of animal sciences at the University of Illinois.

Project director Rob Knox, an associate professor at the U of I and swine reproductive extension specialist, will lead one of the five approved projects for 2009.

“Our first aim of this project is to use multivariate analyses to identify in-vitro tests for predicting in-vivo fertility of cryopreserved boar sperm,” he says. “Our second aim is to identify methods that maintain fertility when inseminating reduced numbers of valuable frozen sperm.

“Finally, we want to provide practical educational tools that help producers make decisions regarding the use of frozen boar semen for genetic advancement, productivity and disease protection in domestic or international markets.”

Nearly all U.S. commercial pork producers use artificial insemination (AI) today, a major switch from the early 1990s, when a low percentage used AI to breed sows.

“The fertility on U.S. hog farms is phenomenal by any stretch,” says Knox. “Improvements in our swine breeding systems will come at a much slower rate now. To go from 80% farrowing rates to 90% requires many things to happen at the same time.”

With this in mind, Knox began questioning U.S. breeding systems from semen fertility to disease to AI timing in an effort to figure out how to help pork operations achieve even higher efficiency.

“The U.S. pork industry relies on liquid semen with a shelf life of only five days,” Knox says. “AI is performed using three billion sperm in multiple inseminations with pooled semen from multiple boars. This methodology, while successful at minimizing infertility from poor quality semen, increases the risk for disease transmission and reduces the potential for genetic advancement by diluting semen from sires with superior traits.”

The team suggests use of frozen boar semen can help improve rates of genetic progress, improve profitability and protect herds against disease, making hog operations more efficient.

U of I faculty researchers in the project include Dave Miller, Rebecca Krisher, Sandra Rodriguez-Zas, Peter Goldsmith and Sherrie Clark. Other investigators include Phillip Purdy from the USDA and Ken Stalder from Iowa State University.

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