EU-funded research has developed insemination strategies to help goats reproduce at any time of the year, without the use of hormones. This means year-round, hormone-free goat’s milk.
“This will help goat breeders to supply goat milk all year long and enable them to meet legal requirements on the use of certain hormonal substances,” explains the FLOCK-REPROD project’s scientific coordinator Maria-Teresa Pellicer, from the National Institute of Agriculture Research, France. “FLOCK-REPROD is now an EU-registered trademark, so farmers who carry our logo will be more easily recognised on the market as a healthy and safe option.”
Meeting market demand
Natural goat reproduction – and therefore goat’s milk – is seasonal, which means that breeding out of season requires artificial insemination. This has normally been achieved through the use of hormonal treatments that control reproduction cycles.
There are solid economic reasons for this: in France for example, the price of out-of-season goat milk is 13% higher, says Pellicer. And although most of the milk consumed in Europe comes from cows, goat′s milk is increasing in popularity, in part because of its healthy image. The composition of goat′s milk also happens to be closer to human milk, making it easier to digest – important for people with allergies. Goat′s milk also contains fewer calories and less cholesterol than cow’s milk.
However, as the law requires farmers to discard any goat′s milk produced in the first 36 hours after hormone treatment, farmers using this technique have to bear a significant loss. In addition there have been growing health and safety concerns in recent years over the use of hormones.
This is where the FLOCK-REPROD project comes in. The new hormone-free procedures, which involve a better understanding of animal interaction and adjusting the length of the day, have now been made available on a training course DVD and practical guide.
These enable breeders to share technical know-how, and gain a better understanding of the long term economic benefits of hormone-free insemination. Hormone-free milk is hugely relevant for the burgeoning organic market, and could help keep European farmers ahead of the curve should a total ban on the use of hormones in animal production ever come into force.
“The results of this project will also make the EU dairy goat industry – essentially a rural activity – more competitive with foreign imports, and also increase our farmers’ export potential all year round,” Pellicer points out.
Just the starting point
There is still work to be done. Although there are few cost differences between FLOCK-REPROD procedures and hormonal treatment, fertility rates are still higher among hormonally treated animals, as was found in France, where the project was largely carried out. The new procedures also take a little more time, an important consideration for small-scale farmers and agri-businesses pressed to get their products to market.
“So this research must continue in order to improve the fertility results and the repeatability of these new protocols,” says Pellicer. “Time and effort are still needed to develop alternative protocols as efficient as hormonal treatments. New methods are also needed to simplify the detection of ovulation and increase its efficacy.”