Cattle breeders wishing to increase genetic gains from their herd can now call on a mobile in-vitro embryo production (IVP) service that will cover the UK.

Artificial breeding technology company AB Europe says IVP is a more efficient and higher-welfare method than multiple ovulation embryo transfer (MOET).

This is due to less handling and more breeding opportunities through the year, according to AB Europe veterinarian Gavin Tait.

See also: Step-by-step guide to carrying out IVF on cows

Launching the IVP service yesterday (29 September), Mr Tait (pictured below) said the process of an on-farm collection and embryo development cost just over £300 and was “very competitive” compared with the cost of standard MOET.

He said farms also have the option of boarding cows at the company’s laboratory and isolation facility at Thorneydykes, Edinburgh, which has 20 calves “on the ground” this year.

Oocyte collection takes around 15 minutes and is being offered as a mobile service by aB Europe

Oocyte collection takes about 15 minutes and is being offered as a mobile service by AB Europe

Furthermore, the benefits, which include weekly rather than monthly collections and broader collection windows, mean genetic gain can potentially be faster, he added.

“There are different ways to look at cost,” stresses Mr Tait. “There is the cost to produce an embryo or a pregnancy. Additional charges can be applied for freezing or vitrification, but a rough figure is just over £300.

“A further benefit of IVP is you can breed from very old cows with very high genetic merit, or animals that are problem breeders. Cows don’t have to be kept open – collections can happen when they are pregnant and again four weeks post-calving.

“Also, we tend to find cows that have an IVF collection get in calf very easily. With MOET there is a tendency for some cows to have issues getting back in calf.”

How it works

Through a process called trans-vaginal recovery, IVP “aspirates” ooctyes (eggs) from a cow’s ovary.

This process takes about 15 minutes and follows an epidural injection, adds Mr Tait. Ooctyes are placed into flasks at 38.5C (cow body temperature).

See also: Embryo transfer ‘a faster way to boost beef herd genetics’

A cow typically yields 8-12 oocytes, although some cows can produce 40. The embryos then go through maturation and fertilisation in a laboratory, explains AB Europe embryologist Daina Harris.

Mrs Harris has seen the process undertaken in New Zealand, where more than 4,000 embryos are transferred annually.

“IVP delivers all the benefits of multiple ovulation embryo transfer, with many more advantages,” explains Mrs Harris. “Because of the way we recover the oocytes, we can collect weekly and we have more windows of opportunity through the year.”

The approach, which is also widely used in Canada, South America and the US, sees embryos transferred into recipient cows eight days after collection.

Recipient cows should be big and milky enough, advises Mr Tait. “Recipients need to come into heat the day after collection from the cow if the embryos are going to be transferred fresh. The alternative is hormone synchronisation, the same as AI,” he adds.

IVF v MOET

 

IVF

MOET

Collections/month

Four

One

Semen straws/donor

One (for up to about four embryos)

Three to five

Average number of embryos/collection

Three

Four to six

Can you collect from pregnant cows?

Yes

No

After-calving collections

Four weeks

Eight weeks

Pregnancy rate from frozen embryos

40-45%

50%

Pregnancy rate from fresh embryos

65%

60%

Cost of veterinary drugs programme donor

£0

£100+

Drugs

0

Multiple injections (such as AI)

Cow handling

One

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