Researchers design new protocol to improve reproduction of ovine cattle

Researchers of the Veterinary Faculty of the CEU Cardenal Herrera University (CEU UCH) and the National Institute of Farming and Food Research and Technology (INIA) have designed a new protocol to synchronize heats and ovulation periods to improve the reproduction of ovine cattle, which is based on the use of natural hormones. This new system also decreases the time during which the cattle is exposed to progestogens during the hormonal protocols, and adds a new intravaginal device with natural progesterone named CIDR (Controlled Internal Drug Release), which decreases the risk of infections. Therefore, it is a new reproductive methodology which favors the well-being of the animals and, at the same time, the health of consumers, by minimising the pharmacological residue that is present in the products derived from the ovine cattle, meeting the growing demand to consume products of animal origin that are 'clean, green and ethical'.

The development of this protocol without artificial hormones, has been headed by researchers Paula Martínez Ros, professor of the Department of Animal Production and Health of the Veterinary Faculty of the CEU UCH and head of the Teaching Farm and Veterinary Research of this university; and Antonio González de Bulnes, scientific researcher of the INIA. They have both presented this system to the cattle sector in informative sessions held in Mérida (Extremadura Community) and Manzanares (Ciudad Real), the main regions that produce ovine cattle meat and milk, respectively, in Spain. During the last week of February, they will also be showcasing it to farmers of Aragón.

Without synthetic hormones
As professor Paula Martínez Ros explains, "the growing demand for food free from pharmacological residues has also increased the number of countries that require their livestock breeders, and also importers and exporters, to respect sustainable reproductive practices, without using synthetic hormones. As a result, the use of progestogens to synchronise heat is currently being analysed. In the case of the European Union, the use of synthetic steroid hormones is being reviewed, due to generating residues in animal carcasses. Breeders therefore need alternatives that minimise or completely avoid the use of synthetic hormonal treatments, such as the protocol developed by the CEU UCH and the INIA which uses CIDR devices."

The induction and synchronisation of heat in the case of small ruminants is done with treatments based on exogenous hormones. Progesterone, or equivalent substances, are the most commonly used hormones for the synchronisation of these animals. And it is applied through intravaginal devices during a two-week period, as they must surpass the average lifespan of a potential corpus luteum in the ovary. In opposition to these common practices for ovine reproduction, the new protocol developed by the CEU UCH and INIA prevents the use of synthetic hormonal treatments by using natural progesterone, thus reducing potential risks for human health caused by residues present in products of animal origin. And at the same time, it improves animal well-being, as it cuts the time it must remain inserted by half, while also reducing the risk of infection by being manufactured with inert silicone.

Healthier and more profitable production
As professor Ros highlights, "this advance is of great importance for the cattle sector, as any improvement in reproductive efficiency is key for the global efficiency of ovine farms. The increase in fertility and prolificacy of the flocks more than just in springtime, makes it possible to supply the market demand for the whole year, overcoming the seasonal limitation of the product offer and increasing its economic value. Those breeders who are able to put products that are "out of season" on the market benefit from higher prices during the winter, thus increasing the profitability of their cattle production."

The design and results obtained with this method have been published in three scientific articles in prestigious international journals, two in Animals and one in Reproduction in Domestic Animals. The design of short protocols had already been published before in the Animal Reproduction Science journal. Together with Paula Martínez Ros, CEU UCH professors Mari Carmen López Mendoza, Marta Lozano, Alejandro Ríos and Empar García Roselló have also taken part in the research. And on behalf of the INIA, together with Antonio González de Bulnes, researcher Susana Astiz.

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