When it comes to the reproductive performance of swine, one problem that often seems to be overlooked is sire infertility.

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In a new study, Iowa State University Animal Science Professor Karl Kerns will look into ways to improve fertility rates. He says it’s unacceptable in the industry that 25 percent of the boar heard has less than 80 percent conception rates.

So, one way to illustrate that is if you take 80% of the bores, one end of the spectrum has about 12 pigs per litter, the other end will have about 16. And so, if we were able to increase the average number of pigs per litter by just one pig per litter that equates to about $120 million per year.

And by doing this study, Kerns is hoping there can be implications beyond swine- perhaps in cattle and humans.

Infertility is a $4.7 billion issue on the cattle side just in the beef sector, not including dairy -- it's even more so once we include the dairy for cattle in general. But like the pig sector, there hasn't been much attention on bull fertility.

Kerns adds that a lot of the same proteins and ions he will be working with within pigs are also present in cattle and humans, meaning his results could affect all three species.

Cute pig leaning on railing of his cot

Studies that do look into fertility on the male side, often just look at sperm swimming patterns, which Kerns says does not show the whole picture.

It's almost like showing up to a workplace and watching how people walk from their car into the workplace and or into the office or job site. And, and oftentimes, how someone walks doesn't really indicate their ability to work throughout the day. And so, it's not fair to humans to make that judgment and it's definitely not fair to sperm.

Kerns received a five-year grant from the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture. During the study, he will be looking at the molecular side of “good” and “bad” sperm and making techniques that help indicate fertility is more costly to producers.

Hear more of my conversation with Karl Kerns about the study here:

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