Steps to a Successful Embryo Transfer

Mar 30, 2023

Mineral and vitamin deficiency can really be detrimental to reproductive success for cattle. In this podcast we discuss why that is, and how a good nutrition program can help bridge the gap.



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Tom Martin:                I’m Tom Martin. And joining us is Harrison Smith, account manager for Ridley Block Operations, talking with us from College Station, Texas. Harrison, welcome to Beyond the Barrel.

Harrison Smith:           Thank you. It’s really an honor to be here.

Tom Martin:                A question: What is embryo transfer?

Harrison Smith:           Embryo transfer is the process of removing one or multiple embryos from the reproductive tract of a donor female. And then we take those embryos and either transfer one or more of them into recipient or multi recipient female. We can also freeze those embryos to store or sell and use them at a later date. So, that’s kind of a quick overview of what embryo transfer is.

Tom Martin:                And what’s the application? Why would somebody use a technology like this?

Harrison Smith:           Especially in the beef cattle world, improving the next generation is a very common goal that many of us share. Unfortunately, in the cattle industry, there are longer gestation times, and typically there’s only one calf born at a time. So it could take multiple years to see the kind of widespread impact the female has on an operation. So, utilizing these products to kind of mass-produce those genetics, we can quickly see the positive impact that [a late] female can bring to us.

Tom Martin:                Now, there’s conventional embryo transfer and then there’s in vitro fertilization. What’s the difference between the two?

Harrison Smith:           Conventional embryo transfer starts off by utilizing a follicle-stimulating hormone particle on the donors, and that causes multiple follicles to ovulate. Donors are then bred by artificial insemination. Typically, they use multiple straws after that superovulation process. Then, seven days after the donor is AI-ed, the embryos are flushed from the donor’s uterus. These embryos are then transferred fresh into recip females or frozen to be sold for a later time. Also, a technology that’s gaining in popularity is IVF, like you mentioned: in vitro fertilization.

                                   The IVF process starts with the collection of oocytes, and that’s by aspirating the ovaries of the donor cow. Those unfertilized oocytes – or unfertilized eggs, which oocytes are – are then recovered and placed into a Petri dish and they’re fertilized one day after aspiration. The fertilized oocytes are placed into an incubator and for the next seven days, they’re in that incubator. And what’s really neat about that is they’re in a special media temperature and environment that mimics the uterus of that donor cow. And then, after an eight-day process, those oocytes that are fully developed into viable embryos are either transferred into recipient females or frozen in a manner similar to that of conventional embryo transfer.

Tom Martin:                Okay. Between these options, embryo transfer and in vitro fertilization, which one would you choose?

Harrison Smith:           I definitely think you should consult your embryologist and talk through your certain situation before deciding which road to take. Both of them are very good options; it kind of varies between the operation and producer. You know, the conventional embryo, it’s kind of – word on the street is that those could be typically a little bit stronger, they can handle the freezing process good and all of that. But with IVF, it’s got an advantage because you can run them cows every two weeks. You can also aspirate pregnant cows, and that’s an advantage. If you’re in that 45- to 100-day window, you could still mass-produce the genetics of cattle that are carrying a calf.

Tom Martin:                And what is a recipient female?

Harrison Smith:           They are what we kind of consider the surrogate mother for those donor cows’ calves. And what’s really important to remember is even though those recips aren’t necessarily is as much genetic value as what that donor is, they still play extremely important roles in the success of your ET program. So, when picking out those recip females, I definitely think you need to have a big focus on body condition score, plus those important female traits like udder quality, feet quality, docility. That will have a really big impact on the success of your 60-day preg check after you transfer those embryos into your set of recip females.

Tom Martin:                What are the steps, or what’s the checklist, that a producer should have to make sure that their ET program is successful?

Harrison Smith:           The number one thing to do is find an embryologist that you’re comfortable with and working with them, because that’s a really big start. And then, also, donor and recip selection are huge in the success of your ET program. If they are not up to par, then your foundation, in my opinion, is weak from the start. But what’s also important if not [1A], if you will, is going to be the nutrition for both your donor and recip herds. The reason for that is that nutrition has such a big impact on reproductive performance in beef cattle production. It’s not surprising that in a situation like this, where we’re really using advanced reproductive technologies like ET, that it’s still extremely important. 

                                  So, for the best results on that nutrition program, I think we need to try to have both our donors and our recips on an upper plane of nutrition as we head into that flushing and transfer time, like, daily. We’d like to see both sets of donors and recips in that body condition score range of 4 to 6. One other thing to remember is that mineral and vitamin deficiency can really be detrimental to reproductive success. And that’s why I think your mineral program should be extremely heightened and focused when using these advanced technologies. The macro mineral phosphorus and the trace minerals copper, zinc, and selenium, along with manganese and vitamins A and E, are extremely important in cattle reproduction. That’s why we always suggest, especially for guys utilizing these programs like in vitro fertilization or ET work, that the Crystalyx® Blueprint® line is a great, great option to go with, because that Crystalyx Blueprint line is really taking the next step in terms of mineral supplementation.

                                  By utilizing 100% organic trace minerals through the Bioplex® organic trace minerals, Blueprint can use lower levels and avoid antagonisms caused by over-supplementation of inorganic trace minerals. These minerals that we use, the Bioplex minerals, are better absorbed and utilized by the animal and contribute to the ideal trace mineral status needed for reproductive efficiency. So, just to round it out: Advanced reproductive technologies can jumpstart your operation, so I believe taking the time to evaluate your herd donors and recips, plus making sure they’re on a high-end nutrition and mineral program such as that Crystalyx Blueprint line, is going to be a great safety net to make sure our investment has success in the future.

Tom Martin:                All right. That’s Harrison Smith, account manager for Ridley Block Operations, talking with us from College Station, Texas. Thanks so much, Harrison.

Harrison Smith:           Yeah. Thank you, guys.

Tom Martin:                For the Beyond the Barrel podcast series, I’m Tom Martin.