Reproductive success in livestock is essential for the economic livelihood of producers and ultimately affects the consumer cost of meat and other animal products. In many livestock production systems, poor fertility is a major factor that limits productivity. NIFA provides funding for basic and applied research in animal reproduction, and supports extension and education programs that transfer new science-based knowledge to the field and classroom.
The ability of animals to reproduce efficiently is an integral component of animal agriculture. However, infertility is a problem to some degree in all animal production systems, including aquaculture species. Reproductive failure is one of the most significant factors that limit the productivity of animal production systems and result in millions of dollars in lost profits annually. A major challenge facing many producers is finding practical, cost-effective ways to improve reproductive performance without compromising the production of safe, high quality meat and milk products.
Inefficient reproduction in livestock may be caused by numerous factors including: abnormal or absent reproductive cycles; failure to show estrus (heat); embryonic and fetal loss and mortality during the neonatal period; failure to reach puberty at an optimum age or an inability of young females to conceive early in the breeding season; environmental stressors such as temperature extremes or changes in photoperiod (day and night cycle), or; production of sperm with a low potential for fertilization.
In some production systems, breeding programs designed to select for milk or meat traits have had deleterious effects on reproductive performance. In dairy cattle, intense genetic selection for increased milk production has been accompanied by significant reductions in fertility. Similarly, in broiler breeders (chickens bred specifically for meat production) reproductive ability decreases as body weight (meat production) increases. To address these problems, NIFA provides national leadership and funding opportunities to conduct basic and applied research on reproduction in agriculturally important animals.
Basic research increases our knowledge of the fundamental biology of reproduction, which in turn facilitates the development of state-of-the-art management strategies that optimize reproductive efficiency and minimize economic loss. Through partnerships with land-grant universities, NIFA also supports extension and outreach programs. These programs transfer research-based knowledge and reproductive management practices to livestock, poultry and aquaculture producers and professionals across the country. NIFA is also committed to educating the next generation of animal scientists and producers by providing educational funding opportunities for curriculum development, fellowships and training in reproductive biology.