White-tailed deer researchers at the LSU AgCenter Bob R. Jones Idlewild Research Station in Clinton are using sperm from dead bucks to keep their favorable genes alive.
Dearl Sanders, LSU AgCenter professor and resident director, and Will Forbes, his research associate, are awaiting the arrival of fawns that were fathered by a trophy buck that was killed in Illinois last November.
“We bred 16 does with sperm from this buck, of which six got pregnant and should be delivering in the next two to three weeks,” Sanders said.
This is not the first time that sperm from fair chased (legally harvested) bucks has been used to produce offspring, but it is the first time an out of state buck has been involved.
The record buck was killed by Louisiana hunter Mike Toney at Jerry Stafford's Samson Whitetail Mountain ranch in Vienna, Illinois.
Once the buck was down, care had to be taken with its testicles to insure the sperm survived.
“The most important part of the process is cooling the testicles down slowly in order to insure survival of the sperm,” Forbes said.
Forbes said Toney did a good job of packing the testicles and making the drive back to Louisiana with enough viable sperm to potentially breed 200 does.
“Mike delivered the testicles to Jesse Saenzs in New Orleans, who extracted the sperm and brought it to GenX Cooperative, a beef and dairy semen supplier in Baton Rouge to have it processed into almost 200 straws or individual doses,” Forbes said.
“Many hunters are looking at this new technology only as a way to grow white-tails with bigger racks,” Sanders said. “But that is just part of the importance of this research.”
In addition to growing trophy-sized deer, this research also may be the beginning of a new disease-control measure as well as a way to keep some species from becoming extinct.
“If we see a herd of deer that are surviving in an area where others are dying off from a specific disease, then we could theoretically insert this resistant gene into the population of other deer to make sure they have resistance,” Sanders said.
Glen Gentry, LSU AgCenter animal science researcher, has been working on the technology since 2003 and feels confident that great strides have been made.“One of the problems that have been encountered with this research is the lack of literature on the process. There just has not been much work done in this area.”
The technology was developed partially as a way to save money for deer herd producers.
“During the early years, around 2004, producers were paying on the low-end $500 and up to $7,000 for a straw of semen from superior bucks, with pregnancy rates around 30 percent,” Gentry said. “That can get expensive real quick.”
This idea goes back to 2003 when a graduate student in the Department of Animal Science was finishing up his graduate program of deriving viable semen from dead beef animals by extracting the semen from the testicles.
“I wanted to know if this could be done with white-tailed deer since captive extraction of semen from wild deer is difficult and illegal in most states,” Sanders said.
Artificially inseminating cattle for selective genetic traits has been a common practice in the beef industry for a number of years. But the mechanics of completing the process with deer has proven to be challenging.
“One thing that’s different is the temperament of the animal, which requires the process to be completed at a much faster pace,” Gentry said.
With cattle, visual signs can help in determining which animal is ready to be bred, but this is not the same with deer.
“But can you imagine the stress involved in this process for white-tailed deer?” Gentry said. “As stressful this is to your deer; it would be detriment to your pregnancy rates because as stress goes up, pregnancy rates go down.”
Though hunters would love to have trophy bucks available in their favorite hunting spot that probably won’t happen unless they hunt in controlled areas like the 500-acre Samson Whitetail Mountain ranch where it could cost up to $38,000 to kill one of these monster bucks.
“That’s because once deer have been placed in a captive environment, it’s illegal to release them back into the wild,” Forbes said.
One of the next steps in this research project is to begin removing eggs from female white-tails to see if maternal traits can be captured as the paternal traits have.
Sanders is looking at the various legal options involved in moving forward. “One thing we’re looking at is becoming the national repository of white-tailed deer and other wildlife sperm,” he said.