New Agri-Futures bill
ELLEN SCHWARZKOPF, Value-Added Agriculture Program

Management Guide:   Kaizen (continuous improvement) for small- and medium-sixed companies

Environmental help for small businesses is available
LINDA KING,  Small Business Liaison for Air Quality

New CIRAS field specialist for Marshalltown

Dr. Eli Goldratt: "Guru to industry" to present workshops via satellite

CIRAS wins national award

CIRAS Management Series is announced; classes will be convenient, affordable

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Center for Industrial Research and Service

 Vol. 33, No. 2, Winter 1999

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University Extension

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New high-tech product enhances animal production

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by Helen Randall, HKR Communications & Marketing


The innovation and commitment of veterinarian Dennis Gourley and the product development skills of CIRAS specialist Don Eichner have resulted in promising new technology

Gourley, one of the very few veterinarians in North America who performs surgical artificial insemination of sheep (he performs the majority of U.S. procedures), has used fiber optic technology to create a device that allows non-surgical sheep insemination. With this device, a trained technician can perform the procedure, eliminating the need and expense of a veterinarian’s surgical talents.

Non-surgical artificial insemination, using a laproscope, has long been practiced with other animals, such as cattle. However, the anatomy of sheep has rendered that process unsuccessful. The cervix of a sheep has multiple folds of tissue which hinder standard instruments from transmitting ram semen to the uterus. The incisions are used to surgically inseminate the sheep, a process that requires a veterinarian. The high costs of the surgical procedure make it economically prohibitive for the many small herds found in U.S. sheep production.

Called the Gourley Scope , the new device is easily used by technicians, who are trained by Gourley. The Gourley Scope only recently has been put on the market, after nearly three years of re-engineering to make use of visual properties offered through fiber optics.

Gourley and his wife, Deb, are founders of Elite Genetics, a Waukon firm specializing in ram semen collection and distribution, artificial insemination, and embryo transfer. Elite Visions was formed as a related company to produce, test, and distribute the Gourley Scope .

With assistance from a team of students, Eichner developed a double sheathing system for the laproscope. A fiber optic cable runs through part of the device and is connected to a minute plastic ball and lens. The sheathing is flexible and disposable. The technician inserts the scope, which allows him to see inside the animal and maneuver around the folds of the cervix. When he reaches the implantation point, the technician forces semen through the second narrow tube of the sheath. A monitor or eyepiece shows the technician exactly what is occurring during the procedure. The device is 0.9 mm in diameter.

Sound simple? It wasn’t so simple to develop the product to its usable stage, said Larry McGraw, president of Elite Visions. The Gourley Scope required Eichner’s team to integrate state-of-the-art technologies in fiber optic imaging, microinjection molding, and multi-channeled micro-extrusion. Just the tilt of the tiny plastic ball on the end of the sheathing meant the difference between being able to maneuver through the folds o tissue and being stopped midway.

Now that the product is on the market and the training has begun in various countries as well as the U.S., McGraw said he and others at the company are anticipating a relatively fast upturn in demand for the Gourley Scope . "It involves much less cost for the

The added benefit for everyone is that the genetic base in sheep production will improve with artificial insemination. Show rams, that compete for big money prizes, can be used to inseminate more ewes and increase competition in shows. The food portion of the sheep industry will also be influenced. Better genetics will improve rates of gain and food quality.

producer," said McGraw. "Surgical insemination costs about $30 per head, plus the expenses of bringing in Dr. Gourley. We now are looking at approximately $20 per head of the producer using the Gourley Scope ."

Producers also purchase rams to enlarge their flocks. But the price of a ram can run up to $10,000, and the genetic outcome is directly related to the quality (and the price) of the ram.

"Iowa has the largest number of sheep producers, but producers have low flock numbers," said McGraw. Other states have similar types of operations. The Gourley Scope can said financial as well as genetic benefits.

"Our goal," McGraw adds, "has been to make an economical, efficient artificial insemination system more available to all sheep producers."

The added benefit for everyone is that the genetic base is sheep production will improve with artificial insemination. Show rams that compete for big money prizes can be used to inseminate more ewes and increase competition in shows. The food portion of the sheep industry will also be influenced. Better genetics will improve rates of gain and food quality.

The sheaths are produced at the Waukon facility and the laproscopic instruments are purchased from a Minnesota company. Cost of the entire device is less than $2,000 plus cost of an accessories kit. Currently, training is the primary task at Elite Visions, said McGraw. Gourley travels to other countries as well as to universities and other U.S. sites to teach people how to use the device. A training video has recently been created, taking all new technicians through each step of the process.

While the Gourley Scope was developed to improve sheep production, excitement has grown over its possible application for goats, dogs, swine, and white-tailed deer. "Our system is more precise than what (breeders) have used in the past," noted McGraw. "They are able to use less sperm and improve genetics of the offspring." scope.jpg (15114 bytes)

The new high-tech project was brought into the CIRAS product development realm by Iowa State's Center for Advanced Technology Development (CATD) and is an example of the integration of multiple service providers possible through ISU.  In addition to CIRAS and CATD, it included contributions from the following organizations and programs:

  • ISU College of Engineering
  • ISU College of Agriculture
  • ISU College of Veterinary Medicine
  • ISU College of Business
  • Ames Laboratory
  • Iowa Department of Economic Development (IDED)
  • Value Added Agricultural Products Financial Assistance Program (VAAPFAP)

For more information on the Gourley Scope, contact Elite Visions at 319-568-4551.   For more information on CIRAS product development services, contact the CIRAS Office.

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