Elks conceived by artificial insemination

What is artificial insemination?

Artificial insemination is a technique that consists in choosing a semen to introduce it into a female’s uterus which previously received hormones. Success rate is of about 60% and veterinarians say that very few diseases can be transmitted by semen.

Why not use natural reproduction?

The actual pastures area of our farm does not allow us to have more than 100 elks. Even if we feed them grains and hay in winter, elks need to have an exterior open space to run (they stay outdoors all year long even during snow storms as their fur protects them from cold), and they also need to eat fresh grass as well as fresh tree leaves to be happy and healthy.

As the number of animals in our herd is limited, we have to be very careful to avoid consanguinity problems. This is why we opt for artificial insemination with semen from males living outside our herd.

To learn more about consanguinity, see chapter 3 of the Guide d’élevage de grands gibiers offert par le CRAAQ (in French only). You will find an interesting chart which shows consanguinity probabilities for cervidae depending on the type of breeding. For example, if a male reproduces with his daughter, there is a 25% chance that the fawn from this union has malformations due to consanguinity.

How we proceed for the reproduction of our elks

Unlike other farms, the Ferme les Wapitis des Beaux Prés does not use crossbreeding techniques between elks and other species, like the red deer, for example. We did not buy any new elk since 1998, but we normally buy 2 new semen each year, to inseminate our females which are the daughters or granddaughters of our males. This helps avoiding dangers of consanguinity. This also help improve our animals genetics. The other females will mate naturally.

The semen we buy comes from champions. This gives us fawns who have better characteristics. The qualities we look for in an elk are the following:

1.       Size and weight: the larger the animal is, the more meat it will provide, thus bringing more profit to the producer.

2.       Big antlers: an elk with big antlers has a good chance to give fawns with big antlers too, and remember that antlers are sold by weight to make natural products. Also, some animals can be sold for hunting (in a very large enclosed field) and they have more value if they have large antlers.

Artificial insemination is done around mid-September, which is the beginning of the reproduction period for elks. Two weeks after insemination, the females are sent inside a fence where a male (that is not blood related) is waiting for them. The male knows what to do. If a female is in heat because the insemination did not work, the male will make sure she is impregnated.

For safety reasons, we separate males from females at the age of 12 months. This way, we make sure they don’t reproduce between themselves randomly and we avoid consanguinity. A male can reproduce with up to 50 different females in the same season. Thus, we choose 1 or 2 males that will have the option to mate with a determined group of females, and we let the nature take its for a few weeks. We then take out the male from the group around end of October so to avoid late births that would put in danger the fawn (when they are too small they sometimes have trouble surviving winter) and to allow the mother to be in good shape to reproduce next autumn.


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