A true skill: Traveling LAI technician shares opportunities leading to career in sheep industry
Today it is more common to hear about laparoscopic artificial insemination (LAI), compared to almost 40 years ago when the technology began influencing genetics in small ruminant flocks across the world.
LAI involves the synchronization of estrus and a well-timed insemination by way of minor surgical procedure through the abdominal wall of small ruminant animals. Glen Erickson, a resident of Wellsville, Utah and owner of New Frontier Genetics, has been involved in the sheep industry for as long as he can remember.
“I have raised sheep all my life,” he began. “I started showing lambs when I was eight years old, but it all started with my dad. He raised sheep and showed competitively in southern Utah.”
“He ended up selling out of the sheep business when he went back to school and always said if he knew his kids would have be interested in sheep, he would have kept them,” explained Glen.
Finding a place in the industry
Glen originally planned on attending school to become a veterinarian. However, vet school didn’t go as planned and after he thought about it, he didn’t want to work with sick animals every day.
Glen graduated with a bachelor’s degree in animal science with a minor in pre-veterinary medicine and eventually pursued a master’s degree in animal reproduction. After completing his undergraduate degrees from Utah State University (USU), he began working for the university as the shepherd.
“I worked at USU for nearly 20 years running their animal science farm,” Glen said. “I was in charge of the sheep program and part of the cattle program there.”
While at USU, Glen decided there needed to be an improvement in genetics at the farm, and the quickest way to complete this task was through artificial insemination, especially when it came to raising purebred sheep.
“I started by collecting rams from around the area, specifically from Brigham Young University (BYU),” he shared. “They had a ram I wanted to buy to improve our Suffolk flock and they weren’t willing to sell him to me. But, they were interested in trading semen.”
After he collected semen for BYU, the word was out and people started calling him to collect their rams.
“I got a call and someone wanted to pay me for the work I was doing,” he explained. “I said, ‘Hello, this is a great opportunity.’”
Seizing a new opportunity
After only collecting semen from rams for a few years, he decided he should probably learn how to use the semen and breed sheep through LAI.
“I watched Dr. Gourley years ago, and after that I was mainly self-taught for years and years,” Glen said. “I bred at just the university for many years improving their genetics. In 2007, I had the opportunity to add whitetail deer to the small ruminants I was inseminating and the income was improving.”
He continued, “The size of the farm demanded incredible volume for breeders such as myself, and after several busy years of very high conception rates, I decided to begin breeding commercially on the side. Balancing the demands of both industries was difficult as demand was surging in the agriculture industry for LAI breeders with high conception rates, so I left the university and New
Frontier Genetics was born.”
Creating a career
Glen hit the road running, artificially inseminating all over the
“It’s been almost 30 years since I began inseminating and the need and want has grown exponentially,” he said. “Dr. Gourley was the first to travel around the country, and when he moved into whitetail deer specifically, I found I could travel much more. Every weekend during the summer has turned into an every day, full-time job.”
The full-time job has proved to be valuable, because it has led Glen down different paths learning new skills and visiting different countries.
“I went to Australia to learn embryo transfer, and I went to the Ukraine to teach artificial insemination for six weeks,” he shared. “I have also been in South Africa and New Zealand to train and learn new skills.”
“Every step I complete in the LAI process is for a reason, whether I learned the skill or taught myself the step,” Glen said. “It is something I really enjoy – I love all the components of what I do. It’s choosing life everyday, creating the next generation of animals and advancing the future.”
Cameron Magee is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.