Professor Juhani Taponen: Production animals are animals that reproduce

Bovine reproduction is one of the fundamental preconditions of animal husbandry. Yet, all of its secrets are not uncovered.

Juhani Taponen wishes to arrange a meeting at either the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Viikki or the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine building. It is because he does not know his way around the Viikki Campus very well.

But this is not a result of the professor in domestic animal reproduction being new to the University. To the contrary, Taponen has been working at the Faculty and its predecessor, the College of Veterinary Medicine, since 1993. For the first couple of years he was posted in Hautjärvi, but ever since 1996 he has been working at the Production Animal Hospital on the grounds of the Saari Manor in Mäntsälä.

His job description has largely remained unchanged: from the beginning, Taponen has been interested in questions related to ruminant reproduction.

“They combine research and practical work in a very concrete manner,” says Taponen.

As a researcher, he is interested in tangible matters, which are plentiful in the field of production animal reproduction.

Cows are naturally pregnant with only one calf at a time, but these days, more offspring are expected from the best producers of milk. This is made possible by using the method of embryo flushing, where several eggs of an elite dairy cow are inseminated at once, after which they are flushed out of the uterus seven days later and transferred to the recipient animals.

According to Taponen, this alone poses a number of challenges. How to best succeed in the insemination? What is the significance of using only X sperm that produces cow calves? How often can the procedure be repeated?

Taponen believes reproduction will always remain a partial mystery. That is why it has kept him interested ever since the summer of 1985, his first experience of working as an artificial inseminator.

“With students, you have to start with basic manual skills: how to feel the ovaries through the rectum. Eventually you get to the level of genes.”

Almost everything we get from production animals – meat, dairy produce, eggs – is connected with reproduction.

The importance of reproduction in domestic animal production is already evidenced by the division of disciplines. At the Department of Production Animal Medicine, there are three of them: domestic animal medicine, animal management and welfare, as well as domestic animal reproduction.

Why is reproduction so important?

“Almost everything we get from production animals – meat, dairy produce, eggs – is connected to reproduction. Wool may be the only exception,” says Taponen.

“In practice, production animals are always animals that reproduce.”

Juhani Taponen

Professor of domestic animal reproduction

Born in Karkkila in 1963

Defended his doctoral dissertation on bovine reproduction in 2003

Locum senior assistant in domestic animal reproduction at the College of Veterinary Medicine and the University of Helsinki, 1993–2002

Clinical instructor in domestic animal reproduction, 2003–2018

Director of the Production Animal Hospital of the University of Helsinki since 2014

Inaugural Lecture 5th December 2018