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A new development at the Afka College of Engineering: a tiny sensor will detect when cows ovulate and help farmers schedule the time of insemination.

The developers: "The sensor will help the process of genetic improvement of cows, save time and money for breeders and we hope that in the future it will also help to save varieties that are in danger of extinction"

cow. Photo: US Department of Agriculture
cow. Photo: US Department of Agriculture

Fertilization for genetic improvement is carried out in animals through artificial insemination. Most of the cows in the milk cattle herds and partially in the meat cattle herds in the western world are currently artificially inseminated. The reasons for this stem from the desire to produce a herd with qualities desired by humans such as a large body and a fast growth rate (in the meat industry) and a high yield of milk components such as protein and fat. These characteristics that appear randomly from natural selection can be reproduced by artificial insemination in which a suitable male and female are selected. This process has significant advantages over the natural conception process because it is possible to preserve the selected sperm by freezing for long periods and send it anywhere in the world, as well as to prevent the spread of diseases due to infected sperm.

One of the problems with artificial insemination is the ability to accurately identify the cows' heat period. Incorrect timing of the estrus time will result in the failure of the insemination process and unnecessary financial expenditure. Methods used today to diagnose the time of heat are mainly based on monitoring the cow's behavior such as running, jumping, riding a cow on the back of her friend or counting the number of steps a cow takes per day using a sensor attached to her body.

At Afka - the Academic College of Engineering in Tel Aviv, it was joined by two students, Doron Kessler from the Department of Medical Engineering and Dimitri Birenberg from the Department of Electronics Engineering, under the guidance of Dr. Nadav Shafer from the Department of Medical Engineering at Afka and Dr. Zvi Roth from the Faculty of Agriculture in Rehovot at the Hebrew University. The collaboration resulted in the development of a system that uses a tiny temperature sensor that is only about a millimeter in diameter to be implanted in the cow's ovary for the purpose of measuring its temperature. In a preliminary experiment, the sensor was implanted in the ovarian tissue of a cow and it was found that the system has the ability to continuously measure and transmit the temperature of the ovary with an accuracy of one tenth of a degree. Such a sensor may help in accurately determining the time of estrus and ovulation based on the changes in temperature and accordingly the exact time of insemination.

Using this kind of technology can improve the performance of artificial insemination in farm animals in general and cows in particular. Moreover, it will be possible to use this development also in animals on the verge of extinction which need to be multiplied by artificial means.

In addition, this development may also have significance for women who need artificial insemination. It is known that an increase in the hormone progesterone during ovulation raises the body temperature by half a degree, hence the method of determining ovulation by measuring the "dawn temperature". The possibility of continuous measurement of temperature in the internal reproductive organs, including the ovary, will improve the determination of the ovulation date and increase the chances of artificial insemination being successful.

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