A combination of technologies is reaping rewards for farmers.
The use of reproductive technologies such as sexed semen and embryo transfer in commercial dairy herds is not a new phenomenon, however significant refinement and advancement means that combining these technologies alongside genomic testing could be a cost-effective approach to increasing the rate of genetic gain.
Multiple ovulation embryo transfer (MOET) involves producing multiple embryos from a single animal, thereby amplifying desirable genetics, increasing reproductive rate and decreasing the generation interval — both key drivers of genetic gain.
Dr Lindsay Moore, of Dr R.L Moore & Associates in South Gippsland, is currently conducting a field study of the cost benefit of using sexed semen and MOET in heifers.
Combining these technologies could offer benefits to the dairy farmer including the reduction of birth rate of bull calves as well as production of high index embryos as a saleable commodity to the wider commercial dairy industry.
Veterinarian and assistant to Dr Moore, Kate Woodward, said in the past the use of sexed semen in MOET programs was limited and even discouraged due to variable and often poor results.
Because of this, Dr Woodward said artificial insemination and sexed semen was preferred to embryo transfer; but now, operators were becoming more skilled and experiencing much more consistent results, often comparable to those achieved using conventional semen.
“I believe the quality of the sexed semen being used is better than it was when sexed semen was first available.”
With MOET, sexed semen is still used, however the embryo is flushed out for use on other animals.
In terms of cost-effectiveness, MOET has the ability to create more embryos per procedure.
The trial started several months ago, and while there are no firm numbers yet, Dr Woodward said Dr Moore had found some impressive results.
The trial has included up to seven farms and 25–30 animals, however it is hoped that up to 100 animals may be included.
At this point, Dr Woodward said the trial was achieving a high incidence of usable female embryos. On one farm, seven animals have been included in the trial; flushing these animals produced 39 embryos of which 29 were useable.
“Hopefully the end result is high quality embryos that are almost certainly female,” she said.
Dr Woodward said by combining this technology with genomics, breeders could identify and focus on genetically superior heifers, harvesting top quality embryos from those individuals, thereby fast-tracking genetic gains.
Results between herds would vary due to biological factors.
In collaboration with the Australian Dairy Herd Improvement Scheme’s ImProving Herds project, the study will be conducted in herds across the Gippsland area in 2016 and will specifically use 12-to-15-month-old maiden heifers.
Heifers in the trial groups will likely undergo one or two MOET cycles before being mated to calve naturally.
Dr Moore aims to include at least 10 farms in the study, which will yield important data regarding the factors affecting success in terms of embryo yields.
For more information and to be included in the trial, contact Dr R.L Moore & Associates through the website at www.moore-embryos.com