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.







Waiting for renovation

Saari was a large manor. This rather closed community even had a currency of its own, which could be used to purchase, for example, tomatoes grown on the manor grounds.

Today, the premises are managed by the Keuda vocational college, while the professors working at the Saari unit of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine have their offices in the manor house. The former cowshed has been remodelled into a cafeteria, and the massive stable, previously used for housing 50 craft horses, into a workspace.

At the base of the manor hill, behind the stable sits the Production Animal Hospital of the University of Helsinki, transferred to this location in 1996. The then empty piggery of the agricultural college was renovated and expanded to accommodate the animal hospital and other facilities required by the clinic.

Renovation plans delayed

The Production Animal Hospital is in desperate need of renovation, since part of the facilities are already at the end of their service life, or even well past it. Three years ago, planning had come along to the stage that the deadline for tender submissions had closed and the hospital facilities had been vacated.

At that point, the University of Helsinki froze all of its investments due to cuts enacted by the Finnish government.

The renovation would have greatly rationalised operations. For example, the passage between the offices and animal facilities currently runs through an operating theatre, a situation which would have been improved by building a passageway in conjunction with the renovation. A hygiene barrier in the form of a room for changing one’s shoes and coat was completed as a quick fix.

The isolation facilities are woefully inadequate and not in any sense up to modern standards. The renovation would have seen to their complete overhaul, but now the whole project remains in limbo.

On top of all this, the operations of the Production Animal Hospital were only relaunched after nearly a six months’ hiatus. This still impacts the number of animals referred to the hospital. The referring veterinarians had to come up with alternative solutions, some of which seem to still be in force.