Pedigree beef breeders are already benefiting from introducing In-Vitro embryo Production (IVP), a cost-effective welfare-friendly service launched last year by artificial breeding technology company, AB Europe. Farmers Guardian reports.
The IVP procedure, which is destined to replace traditional MOET (multiple ovulation embryo transfer), has been successfully developed and proven in New Zealand where more than 4,000 embryos are transferred annually.
AB Europe vet Gavin Tait says: “IVP delivers all the benefits of MOET in enabling cattle breeders to exploit the value of their high genetic merit animals.
“However, it has many more advantages which result in it being a more cost-effective and welfare-friendly service. IVP accelerates embryo production from donor cows, while pregnancy hold rates for both fresh and frozen embryos are relatively similar for both techniques.”
The IVP process combines donor oocyte (eggs) collection, maturation and fertilisation, followed by a culture period and then either transfer or freezing of the subsequent embryos. The farm donor collection process takes about 15 minutes per donor, thereby minimising stress followed by the culture process in the company’s Edinburgh-based laboratory
Mr Tait says: “We are in the process of completing our first year in operation and averages are looking very good. There is a noticeable seasonal trend emerging where we seem to see better results from late spring through to late winter.
“There is much current discussion around environmental and management factors which can affect oocyte quality and competence. Certainly season plays a part for some cows and possibly some breeds more than others, and stressors such as housing, feed changes, environment and groups can certainly impact on the quality of the oocytes which we collect. It is important to remember that these oocytes have been developing over the preceding six to eight weeks, and so any issues during this period may affect those cells and the eventual development into embryos.”
Among the growing number of pedigree beef breeders who have introduced IVP to increase genetic gain is Gareth Ward, who manages his family’s 50-cow Westridge pedigree Simmental herd which is run on a commercial basis. Last year he implanted seven fresh embryos resulting in five live calves, and found the process to be simple, welfare-friendly and cost-effective. Each was by Grangewood Baron 10, the herd’s 19,000gns stock bull which is within the breed’s top 5 per cent and has already sired bulls selling to 6,000gns.
“We have introduced IVP to take the herd to the next level. While it was established 15 years ago, we have recently taken a more focused approach to breeding bulls and replacement heifers for the market place, and are aiming for the herd to be within the breed’s top 10 per cent,” says Mr Ward, who farms a mixed unit which also carries a 300-cow suckler herd with his father, Martyn based at Newbigging, Carnwath.
“IVP is a service which is enabling us to select specific sires to cross to some of our best breeding females to produce high genetic merit progeny for sale. It will also help to widen the gene pool and provide us with more choice of home-bred bulls – we are very focused on biosecurity and we minimise the number of purchases.”
IVP was introduced to three of Westridge’s highest genetic merit females. Mr Ward says: “We had two very good cows coming to the end of their lives, plus another, Westridge Volvo Sheila who unfortunately was a problem breeder.
“The collection process was so straightforward. In fact, that was the aspect of IVP which attracted us in the first place. We had previously used MOET which required a series of hormone injections for superovulation, we completed the process by the rule book, however we did not collect a single embryo.
“In contrast, IVP requires no injections, consequently the donor cows do not suffer any stress; we simply drafted them off for Gavin, the collection took about 20 minutes per animal. Just one straw of semen was used to cover all the ovum and the collection resulted in between three and seven fresh embryos per cow.
“The recipients from our suckler herd were already housed, on a rising plane of nutrition and in condition score 3 when Gavin returned to implant the embryos and again, the job was very straightforward. The process has also had a spin-off, Westridge Volvo Sheila is now naturally cycling and in-calf.
“IVP is working really well for us, and we are planning to use again in order to continue accelerating the herd’s genetic progress; we have found a process which takes up little time, is more welfare-friendly and what is more, it has achieved success.”