Beef Shorthorn breeder Dr. Gerard te Lintelo is successfully using IVP to accelerate genetic progress and increase herd numbers in his Mayfield herd.
“Genetic improvement generally is a slow and gradual process, one which the majority of Beef Shorthorn breeders could concur with. “Genetic turnover time is around two years and nine months, when calving at two years, so selection decisions made now can take over five years to effect,” says Dr Gerard te Lintelo.
“My goal is to build the herd to 120 to 140 breeding females to be able to offer different genetics for different purposes. So far, the herd amounts to 40 cows, and accelerating genetic progress whilst increasing the amount of breeding animals are amongst the immediate priorities. To breed one or two outliers a year would be a bonus, but there lies the challenge,” he says. “Mayfield Rubens for example has so far made the cut. He combines some of the best UK and Canadian genetics.” His is His TI, SRI and MI are all within the breed’s top 1%, whilst both his sire and dam linear classified very high.
“I’ve been selecting from my herd’s top 15% for IVP – the breed’s maternal traits are paramount, along with those which lend Beef Shorthorn cattle to grow and finish really well off low input forage based systems. I’m widening the herd’s gene pool by importing genetics from Canada and Australia bred for these low-input systems.”
Initially Gerard used conventional flushing (ET) to step up the herd’s genetic progress. However, over the last two years, AB Europe’s In-Vitro embryo Production (IVP) has come into the frame. IVP is a process which produces embryos from harvested oocytes (unfertilised eggs). These oocytes are directly collected from the ovaries after a shorth super-ovulation program. The oocytes are fertilized in the lab with selected semen, and subsequently cultured for seven days. The embryos can then be transferred fresh or can be frozen for later use.
“In 2022, we used six in-calf cows for IVP which resulted in 98 oocytes collected. They were taken back to the lab and the following day four different straws of semen were used, and 36 embryos were produced,” he explains.
“AB Europe returned a week later to implant the embryos. They implanted 14 fresh embryos in our synchronised recipients resulting in a good hold rate. The remainder were frozen for future use or might be sold. We achieved similar success in 2021; a flush of 46 oocytes from five cows resulted in 18 embryos; 12 were implanted with seven pregnancies. Freshly implanted IVP embryos tend to result in a slightly better hold rate than frozen ones.
“IVP’s big advantage is that it can be performed on in-calf cows and heifers until 12 to 15 weeks of pregnancy. Compared with conventional ET, IVP is less invasive to the donor cow and it much easier from a management point of view. This means that our donors will still produce a calf and will still be in sync with the rest of the herd. Traditional flushing has to be carried out on empty animals. which then cause these animals to run out of sync with the rest of the in-calf herd, or sometimes they do not get in calf at all. Another IVP advantage is that different straws of semen can be used if a lot of oocytes have been collected.”
He adds: “We’re only breeding from proven genetics – ones which are in the breed’s top 20% with enough offspring analysed. My plan is to achieve 120 breeding females within five years by continuing to annually use the IVP programme to help step up the selection pressure within the herd, and implant embryos in 30 to 40 recipients a year. At the same time, we will still be introducing overseas genetics to further improve our herd. The strategy is scheduled to result in being able to offer bulls of varying types to match commercial market demands.”
Aileen Ritchie has so far used IVP on four of her Limousin herd’s foundation females including the 24,000gns Brockhurst Howzat, and she says she is thrilled with the results. “Howzat has produced a total of 20 embryos in four flushes and we’ve already implanted five of them.”
Aileen, together with the father Walter, has established her Ritchies herd of 10 pedigree breeding cows over the last five years at Whitecairns, Aberdeenshire. “We’re focused on breeding bulls for the commercial market and eventually to close the herd,” she explains.
“It’s all about quality, not quantity; we’ve carefully invested in some of the best bloodlines and IVP is helping us to exploit those genetics to their full potential.
“IVP is proving to be a very cost-effective process; in fact, we’ve achieved a 75% hold rate for the 19 embryos we’ve already implanted in purchased high health commercial recipients. We keep the recipients in groups in the same conditions, in terms of nutrition, for six weeks after implantation in order to give them the best possible chance of success.
“We are very selective which sires we use, and are able to use just the one semen straw over all the oocytes which makes for massive cost savings.
“IVP is welfare friendly. Compared with MOET which required several jags to the extent the cows would get sick of it, there is no set up requirement at all. No jags are involved. We bring the cows straight in from the field or off the yard the same morning, the AB Europe team arrives, carries out the process – we all remain cool, calm and collected and that goes for the cows too, and we turn them back out immediately afterwards.”
She adds: “We are currently building up a bank of embryos to safeguard specific genetics, and IVP is providing a major helping hand towards that goal.”
Gavin Brown is amongst the Simmental breeders who are successfully introducing IVP as a alternative to MOET.
2021 was a landmark year for Gavin’s Springfield herd. Following a season of show and sale ring successes it ended on a high note with an IVP embryo by top 1% SRI Team Celtic selling for an undisclosed sum to a European genetics company focused on introducing UK genetics to Turkey. The Stud initially discovered the herd on Springfield’s Facebook. “We were thrilled. We could never have achieved this sort of business at this stage without a combination of In-Vitro embryo Production (IVP) and high index genetics,” he says. “IVP calves by Celtic have also been in the tickets this year at Stars of the Future and Agri-Expo.
“Whilst it’s satisfying to achieve success amongst individuals, I want to use IVP to cement the entire herd and improve its overall index. My five-year goal is for all heifer replacements to be within the breed’s top 15% for SRI. We are collecting from our best cows on visibility and using semen from some of the breed’s highest index bulls – Team Celtic, along with our own stock bull, Islavale Jabba secured for 6,000gns in May 2020 and is in top 5% SRI.”
Gavin established the Penicuik, Lothian based Springfield herd from scratch in 2016, and gradually built to 26 breeding females primarily from homebred replacements. “Our objective was to eventually breed bulls for the commercial marketplace, and any good enough for the pedigree sector would be a bonus.
“Breaking in to any breed is tough and for some time we’d struggled to gain recognition with our Simmentals. However, in February 2020 we took six intermediate bulls to Stirling, they all sold to average £4,000, and for the first time we broke the barrier achieving a top of 5,500gns.We went on to further success in Stirling, October 2021 being placed first and fourth in the same junior class and those bulls then went on to sell for 6,500gns and 5,000gns; one went to a pedigree herd. Springfield also won the Agri-Expo Simmental championship and reserve junior championship at Stars of the Future.
Prior to introducing IVP, Gavin had used MOET to accelerate genetic progress. “Those multiple injections left us in the lap of the gods. The process left the cow empty, it upset her cycle and then we’d have the challenge of getting her back in calf. There was also the accompanying time, effort and cost.
“We then became aware of IVP as an alternative to MOET and found it leaves the cow to continue the job she is meant to do. Cows for collection can be brought in the same morning the AB Europe team arrive on the farm and they go straight out afterwards. There’s no hassle. We’ve collected from three seperate cows and accumulated 24 embryos. We’ve had eight calves on the ground and the rest are still in the tank,” he says adding: “IVP has already enabled us to make great forward strides, we’ve a scheduled program ahead and are on track to rapidly build the herd’s genetic merit and ultimately its value.”
Mark Wattie found IVP to be the solution to exploit some of the best genetics from his Tonley herd of Aberdeen Angus in Aberdeenshire.
Mark Wattie who manages the 140 cow Tonley herd based near Alford, Aberdeenshire is amongst the Aberdeen Angus breeders who are successfully using AB Europe’s IVP system. “We are trying to improve the herd year on year, develop stronger family lines and develop one of the breed’s top herds. After becoming aware of In-Vitro embryo Production (IVP) from other breeders I believe it’s a good way to help us improve our herd faster. I considered IVP as the preferred method of embryo collection over MOET which requires multiple injections along with accompanying time, effort and cost,” he explains.
“We’ve got off to a good start with IVP; Tonley Lord Hoffman U588 sold for 5,500gns in 2020 and he was out of one of our first IVP cows Blelack Lady Heather. “However IVP began with one of our senior cows, Blelack Jubilee Erica S442 purchased in 2013 and becoming one of our best producing a string of bulls – six sold to top of 10,000gns, but unfortunately she never threw a heifer calf. We introduced her to IVP, and achieved six embryos from a single collection, from which we so far have another two bulls.
“The Ericas are a very consistent line; they offer quality and style – just what the market is looking for; so continuing our quest for a female from the same family, we invested in Erica’s half-sister, Hallington Jubilee Erica L322,” he explains. “To date, she has undergone five IVP coasting collections resulting in 20 embryos. So far, we have implanted nine embryos of which six held – a very good result. We selected semen from five different sires, including Tonley Jester Eric S318.”
Mark says the entire process has been relatively very straight forward. “We took Erica to AB Europe’s livery run by the company’s vet, Gavin Tait on his farm in the Borders. It offers a safe and convenient environment where she undertook a collection every two weeks during her stay.
“Interestingly, when it came to implanting the embryos, we found success was determined by condition of the heifer recipients. We fed half the heifers 2.5kg concentrate a day for four weeks prior to and four weeks after implantation to achieve average body condition score (BCS) 3; 10 out of the 11 held. On the other hand, nine heifers didn’t receive any concentrate at all and maintained themselves at BCS 2 to 2.5, the result was just four held.”
He adds: “Going forward, we have already booked in other IVP programmes with AB Europe for 2021. I think the process is a cost-effective way of enhancing the genetic potential of the herd’s senior cows and heifers. This will enable us to sell some of our top end females in the herd that we have already collected embryos from and we will have pregnancies and embryos as back up.”