Recently appointed professor focuses on bovine reproduction
Juhani Taponen, DVetMed, who assumed a professorship in the reproduction of domestic animals at the beginning of August, highlights ruminant fertility in his teaching and research.

The Department of Production Animal Medicine of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and the Production Animal Hospital (link in Finnish only) of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at the University of Helsinki operate on the grounds of the historic Saari Manor in Mäntsälä.

Juhani Taponen, serving as the director of the Production Animal Hospital, began working in 1993 at the then College of Veterinary Medicine. For years, Taponen worked as a locum senior assistant, until in 2004 when he was appointed a clinical instructor.

“When I started, our facilities were located at the Hautjärvi experimental farm about six kilometres that way,” Taponen indicates from the balcony of the baron’s mansion. These days, the bedroom located on the second floor of the stony manor house is serving as a meeting room.

In 1995, the College was incorporated into the University of Helsinki as the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. This resulted in a move from Hautjärvi to the Saari Manor grounds.

“Leaving Hautjärvi was difficult for us, but transferring to the neighbouring village was definitely the best option of those available. It’s not the walls that count, but the region of practice, the municipality or a larger area using the veterinary services. We had the chance to remain within our established region and continue cooperation with our regular customers. In hindsight, lots of good actually came from the move.”

Uterine torsions and artificial insemination

Fifth-year veterinary students spend at least eight weeks at the Production Animal Hospital. The training period includes exercises, demonstrations and clinical instruction.

“Cow reproduction is the nucleus of my teaching and research. In practice, I conduct my reproduction-related practice with students in tow, teaching them palpation and ultrasound examination of the uterus and ovaries, among other things.”

In the training hall, students get a real hands-on experience of their future work. The hall houses plywood crates the size of a cow’s midsection. Each crate contains an artificial uterus, the external opening of which is connected through a genuine bovine pelvic skeleton to the side of the crate and a circular opening that simulates the vagina.

A dead calf is placed inside the uterus in various positions, enabling the students to practise delivery methods.

The delivery practice crate is a safe way for training delivery assistance. Students can, for example, practise turning the calf inside the uterus or even cutting up a calf that has died inside the uterus to avoid a challenging caesarean section.

A professorship that emphasises research

The research conducted by Taponen is related to the hormonal therapies used to control cow reproduction and practical embryo production, such as the use of sexed sperm. Research projects have also been conducted in collaboration with scholars specialised in domestic animals at the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry.

“I have been here for ages. During my job interview, I was asked what will change were I to be appointed professor,” laughs Taponen.

“I don’t consider this a big upheaval, but rather a continuum that I am just fine-tuning. In the last few years, my employment situation has been unsettled and I have not been able to commit to extensive projects. Now that everything is clear, I am able to focus on research for the long term, not forgetting teaching,” Taponen concludes.

Juhani Taponen, DVetMed, assumed the professorship in the reproduction of domestic animals at the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine on 1 August 2018. The inauguration lectures of new professors will be held on 5 December 2018.