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Breeding Farm Animals

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will go over the very important basic concepts related to breeding farm animals in general, including the breeding soundness exam, pregnancy checks, abortion, and parturition.

Animal Reproduction

When people are planning on having kids, there's a lot that goes into that, right? I mean, it's about making sure you have the right partner, the right home, and the right supplies. The mother goes in for health checks, makes sure she eats enough for herself and her baby, and so on.

All of this is basically the same for animals as well. When you're breeding farm animals, an enormous amount of factors must be considered in order to ensure breeding success. This lesson touches upon many of these concepts.

Breeding Soundness Exams

One of the early elements of breeding farm animals is completing the breeding soundness exam (BSE), an assessment of the male or female in the farm animal pair regarding its ability to establish or maintain pregnancy. Think of it as a health check-up by a doctor in order to evaluate how likely it is they are to impregnate a woman if they're a man, or get pregnant if they are a woman.

The BSE for male animals includes:

  • A physical exam
  • Screening for venereal diseases, also known as STDs
  • The evaluation of the penis and scrotum for proper size, shape and so on
  • The collection and evaluation of the semen for good quality sperm and good quantity sperm counts

The BSE for female animals includes:

  • A physical exam
  • An external genital examination, which involves the examination of the vulva for things like signs of infection
  • An internal genital examination, which includes using ultrasound to examine the ovaries for any abnormalities. (The ovaries are the structures that produce the eggs that the male's sperm fertilize to start the development of the offspring.)
  • Screening for venereal diseases

Some farms don't use direct breeding of males and females for all of their animals. In these cases, the male animal's sperm is collected off-site and is then used in an artificial insemination program.

Pregnancy Diagnosis

Regardless of which way a farm animal is bred, the diagnosis of pregnancy is important in establishing the success of the breeding program. This is because early detection of a non-pregnant female may allow for enough time for her to be rebred.

Early and accurate pregnancy diagnosis in animals occurs thanks to ultrasonography, a system that uses sound waves to create images on a screen of the internal structures of an animal. It's important to note that, although a pregnancy may be confirmed in a farm animal with ultrasound, pregnancy loss is not an unusual occurrence in the first 60 days of gestation, or pregnancy. This means a pregnancy should be re-confirmed after 60 days.

Abortion

Generally speaking, abortion in non-human animals refers to the loss of a fetus after its organs have developed but before it is capable of life outside the womb. A common cause of abortion in some farm animals, especially horses, is twins. Animal abortions also commonly result from infectious diseases or inappropriate nutrition.

Examples of things that can cause abortion in farm animals include:

  • A disease called Listeriosis in cattle
  • Fescue toxicosis in horses. Fescue is a type of plant horses may eat; if this plant is infected with a fungus, a toxic condition may arise that can lead to abortion.
  • Bluetongue virus infection in sheep
  • Brucellosis infection in swine

Parturition

Assuming no problems have arisen during pregnancy, the farm animal will eventually give birth to a live and healthy animal. The process of animals giving birth to their offspring is called parturition. The pregnant animal should be moved into an appropriate birthing pen or pasture prior to giving birth. This area should be dry and large enough for both the mom and the newborn.

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