East Africa / Ethiopia / Genetics / Goats / ICARDA / LIVESTOCK-FISH / Research / Sheep / Small Ruminants / Value Chains

Improved reproductive techniques enable effective use of superior rams in Ethiopia’s community-based sheep breeding programs

Farmer assessing the integrity of a ram’s external reproductive organs

Farmer assessing the integrity of a ram’s external reproductive organs. Photo: SARI/Zelalem Abate

Genetic improvement of small ruminants has been identified as a “best bet” in Ethiopia’s highland areas. As part of the Livestock and Fish small ruminant value chain development activities in Ethiopias, community-based breeding programs established through an earlier project (located in Horro, Menz, Bonga and Abergelle) were strengthened and new ones were established in Atsbi and Doyogena.

Community-based breeding ensures farmer participation in selection and breeding processes, from inception through to implementation. Community-based goat and sheep breeding programs (CBBP) in Ethiopia have been promoted and implemented jointly by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), and partners from the national agricultural research system.

The breeding objectives are to accomplish (i) accurate control of the timing of reproductive events; (ii) maximize the number of females giving birth; and (iii) ensure the survival of newborn kids, and their ability to grow and mature into productive animals. In the context of genetic improvement, reproduction should also be a successful vehicle to effectively disseminate improved genetics in the base population.

Currently, improved rams and bucks produced by the CBBP’s are shared to serve the ewes and does in the communities. There is compelling evidence that improved rams and bucks are bringing genetic progress where they are used. Features inherent to the production systems,in particular the small flock sizes, means that the reproductive impact of the improved sires is limited. To scale out the genetic progress made and expand the use of improved rams and bucks, the Ethiopia Small Ruminant value chain is explore additional options to deliver improved genetics to communities:

  • Assessing improved males for their breeding soundness. Ram and buck examination for mating ability is an important step towards improving fertility at the flock level. Improving the male’s reproductive performance is significant as each male may mate 20 to 40 females per year. This activity works eth farmers to help them understand the mating ability of their males and how to recognize a good male whn obtaining a new one. In 2014, NARS staff based in the different locations (Bonga, Menz and Horro) were trained and subsequently implemented breeding soundness examinations of 123 rams. Each of the breeding rams was examined for the integrity of its reproductive organs, apparent clinical signs, with an estimation of the age and the overall health condition.
  • Disseminating healthy improved males. This step is curently implemented through development of a disease management program for breeding rams which includes, among other measures targeted at vaccination against major diseases (FMD, PPR and Brucellosis). This would prevent rams and bucks spreading diseases. The team has engaged an MSc student from Addis Ababa University to work on this topic.
  • Development of efficient, affordable synchronization protocols. This is an important step towards improving the delivery system of improved rams either through natural mating or artificial insemination (AI). There is an increasing interest in synchronization protocols that avoid the use of synthetic progestogens, which are reputed to lead to ‘non clean oestrus’ and generate high levels of residues in the end products. Ethiopian sheep breeds, because of their non-seasonal character, may be highly responsive to protocols associating prostaglandins and Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) coupled to timed nutritional inputs. The resulting oestrus is more natural and may promote higher conception rates and litter size. This step is in its discovery phase with an on-station protocol (led by Debre Birhan Sheep Research Centre) where promising protocols have been tested alongiside conventional protocols based on the use of intra-vaginal progestogen sponges and exogenous gonadotropins. Data and results being analysed should inform on novel oestrous synchronization protocols that would enhance community use of superior rams.
  • Response of Ethiopian sheep and goat breeds to artificial insemination. None of the laboratories in Ethiopia is equipped to undertake all the steps of small ruminant AI, resulting in a research void. AI research is an important component to support genetics and enhance the efficiency of CBBP’s. The ICARDA team is working with national researchers to develop the capacity of two AI laboratories (Debre Birhan and Bonga) to support genetic improvement schemes of Menz and Bonga sheep. First trials with fresh semen will be carried out in the second half of 2015.

Through advances in reproductive technology, a small number of top rams and bucks can be used to serve a large small ruminant population. In addition, each ram or buck is able to produce a larger number of offspring in a given time, thus enhancing the efficiency of progeny testing. The high intensity and accuracy of selection arising from these technologies can also lead to a fast rate of genetic improvement. Furthermore, producing and then disseminating healthy rams is a precondition for a longer-term certification process of the improved genetics generated from CBBP’s.

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Story contributed by Mourad Rekik, small ruminant reproduction scientist, ICARDA



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