Future of cattle production revealed at BSAS bull fertility event

Beef and dairy producers have been given a glimpse of the future of cattle breeding and reproduction thanks to a major global bull fertility conference hosted by leading animal scientists and BSAS.

The BSAS International Bull Fertility Conference returned to Westport in Ireland (27-20 May) to showcase the latest developments being made in cattle reproduction, and the efforts to drive productivity and efficiency.

Covering everything from male reproductive physiology to bull production, selection and evaluation, the event brought together more than 200 delegates and experts from around the world to share their insights into the latest fertility science — and to provide a glimpse into future technologies.

A world-renowned line-up of speakers fronted by Teagasc’s Michael Diskin and including Christophe Staub from INRA and Pietro Baruselli from the University of Sao Paulo also shared their thoughts on issues ranging from nutrition’s impact on puberty, artificial insemination and spermatogenesis.

Teagasc’s Michael Diskin (pictured, below), who led the event’s organising committee, said in his opening presentation that the growing global demand for meat and diary products meant that understanding reproductive performance of cattle is more important than ever.

“The reproductive performance of cattle is critical to farm productivity and sustainability, as the costs of any inefficiencies can by significant,” he said.

Despite this, there has been too little focus on sharing knowledge about new developments and best-practice — something this event aimed to reverse.

“It’s regrettable there have been few international conferences dealing with bull fertility,” he told delegates.
Michael Diskin
“It’s fair to say Europe is well behind the rest of the world in relation to the emphasis of bull fertility in natural service bulls,” he added. “Breeding soundness evaluation has been standard practice in the US and Australia for many years, but in Europe the levels are low.

“One of the objectives of this conference was to generate greater awareness of evaluation and the role it has."

Among the lectures and workshops on offer, the three-day event gave delegates the chance to hear about the technologies potentially shaping the future of bull fertility — many of which have their roots in human reproductive science.

Pat Lonergan, from UCD’s school of agriculture and food science, used his talk to describe developments including microfluidics, which allows for the selection of the most viable sperm, as well as pluripotent stem cells, which could be used to create artificial gametes — potentially removing the need for sperm or eggs.

He also discussed developments including ‘spermbots’, which help deliver slow-swimming sperm to eggs, and the use of CRISPR/Cas9 technology which scientists are currently using to understand the roles of specific genes that drive fertility.

“Many of these are being used to look at issues in human fertility, but it may be that we can take data from the research and apply it to bulls,” he told delegates.

“From there we may be able to understand why some have lower fertility than others.”

  • BSAS OnDemand: Missed the conference? BSAS members can catch-up on sessions from the event with BSAS OnDemand, the society’s video service. To browse our collection of videos, simply log into your BSAS account and click the video link in the membership area.
  • See pictures from the conference in our special event gallery
  • Report from the conference: One in four bulls questionable for breeding soundness (external link)