Agriculture and Horticulture
Non Technical Summary
In Alaska, reindeer are a valuable source of meat. Interest is developing among producers to undertake intensive reindeer production on farms along the Alaska road system, using traditional livestock production techniques. This is important and has the potential to improve meat quality, allows access to USDA inspected abattoir thereby improving marketability of meat products, and is essential for tapping into agrotourism as a part of the Alaska mystique experienced by many of the 2,000,000 visitors who travel to our state annually. However, a much greater in-depth knowledge of husbandry and reproductive management in this species is necessary if commercial endeavors are to succeed. Even though reindeer are tractable, rutting reindeer bulls remain aggressive, dangerous to handle, destructive to facilities and potentially dangerous to herd-mates as well as to producers and their families. In addition, seasonal rutting activity takes a serious toll on the animal's condition, depleting as much as 35% of their body mass, regardless of dominance status or proximity to females. As such, maintaining adequate male stock behind a fence currently requires a disproportionate amount of capital investment and a lot of skill to bring the animals through the highly vulnerable post-rut phase. Collectively, these factors make reindeer bulls costly, challenging to manage in traditional agricultural settings, and poor candidates for agrotourism. To counteract some of the rut-induced behavioral changes, reindeer producers have been using a synthetic progestin, Depo-Provera (depot medroxyprogesterone acetate; DMPA). Anecdotal information suggests that the drug produces very tractable males who retain their antlers for a normal antler cycle period (important to producers who display reindeer during the winter) and can go on to breed normally in subsequent seasons. However, no controlled studies investigating the use of this compound in reindeer have been conducted. This proposed study will investigate the effects of Depo-Provera on seasonal changes in courtship/aggressive behavior, antler changes, weight loss, feed intake and feeding behavior, semen quality and fertility. Depo-Provera has potential to help manage rutting bulls from both a logistic and an agrotourism perspective, but before we can safely recommend its use, the above questions need to be subjected to scientific scrutiny.This project falls within the Agriculture and Food Security Priority of the Hatch RFP.Agricultural production of non-traditional ruminant livestock species is an important, emerging industry in Alaska. The natural compatibility of species like reindeer, bison, muskoxen, yak and elk with the Alaska environment makes them attractive candidates for agricultural enterprises in the north. Recently, interest in production of reindeer on farms along the Alaska road system has grown, but few farmers have pursued this opportunity. An obvious obstacle to this industry is the lack of detailed understanding of intensive management practices, especially reproductive management, for efficient reindeer production.This study focuses on potential management tools that will assist the farmer in maintaining adequate recruitment stock of healthy, reproductively sound, males. Providing farmers with the knowledge and technology to efficiently time and manage the period of rut as well as the ability to reduce male aggression, without compromising antler development or long term fertility, significantly mitigates many of the drawbacks associated with maintaining male reindeer for future breeding use. This is further enhanced by the growing popularity of male reindeer with large antlers for agrotourism purposes.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories
Goals / Objectives
The objective of this study is to investigate the effectiveness of Depo-Provera as a tool for reproductive management of farmed reindeer bulls. As part of the Management of Diversified Livestock and Reproductive Biology program within the School of Natural Resources and Extension (SNRE) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), this project specifically addresses management of reindeer bulls during the reindeer breeding season. The project will investigate the efficacy of Depo-Provera, a synthetic progestin, on male reindeer antler cycle, behavior, feed intake and feeding behavior, and semen quality. Specifically, this project will use administration of Depo-Provera as the experimental treatment in a 2 year switchback design and will:Compare the timing of antler cycle events (cleaning, casting and antler density) between treatment and control bulls,Evaluate the aggressive and/or courtship behavior between treatment and control bulls,Compare changes in daily feed intake, feeding behavior through the rut period, and weight change during rut between treatment and control bulls, andCompare indirect measures of fertility (scrotal circumference and semen quality following electroejaculation) between treatment and control bulls.
Reindeer bulls (n=10) of mixed age, located at the RGW Large Animal Research Station will be divided into 2 groups (n=5/group) balanced for age and weight and maintained in separate pens. In July when the males are still in velvet antler, the treatment group will receive an intramuscular (i.m.) injection of Depo-Provera (300 mg), with the treatment repeated in September. Timing of antler velvet shedding and antler casting will be recorded for all males. All cast antlers will be collected and analyzed for bone density. Bi-weekly body weights will be collected and group feed intake monitored daily. At the time of feed presentation, all bulls will be observed for time until feeding begins. Courtship and aggressive behavior will be evaluated every two weeks and ranked on a scale of 1-5. A breeding age bull from each group will be placed with a harem for 3 weeks. After breeding has concluded and harems are dispersed, semen will be collected from bulls under anesthesia via electroejaculation in early October. Sperm count and motility will be evaluated and compared between the treated and control animals. The following year the treatment will be switched: The Depo-Provera treated group during year 1 will be the untreated control in year 2 and the untreated control group during year 1 will receive treatments of Depo-Provera during year 2 as described above. This will enable us to evaluate breeding behavior and capacity following Depo-Provera treatment with yearly controls and with each animal serving as its own control.