September 24, 2021 at 6:10 p.m.
Attention to detail paramount to IVF success
“IVF is not for the faint of heart,” California dairyman Steve Maddox said. “But if you do it right, you will be very happy with the results.”
Maddox was one of several presenters during a recent BoviNews webinar, “Making In-Vitro Fertilization Work for You.”
Maddox’s family operates RuAnn Dairy in Riverdale, California, where they milk 4,500 cows and produce between 7,000 to 10,000 embryos each year in their in-house IVF lab. Besides using the lab for their own embryo production, the internationally accredited facility is available for others to bring their animals for IVF work.
“It is really important to treat your donor like a donor,” said Tanner Schmaling, the owner and operator of Maple Leigh Futures. “A donor is like an athlete, and you need to treat her as such for her to perform her best, ensuring the best care and nutrition possible. You need to really listen to what she tells you. Each animals is treated as an individual, with the ration for each tailored to their needs.”
Maple Leigh Futures is located in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, and serves as an IVF ovum pick-up site for Boviteq, an IVF company in Madison, Wisconsin. Schmaling’s focus is placed on housing high genomic donors and show animals. Schmaling works closely with Dr. Dan Gander of Stateline Veterinary Service in Darien, Wisconsin, to provide IVF services at the farm.
To help ensure the health, and ultimately the performance of the donor, Schmaling and Gander pay close attention to the condition of each donor, tracking average daily gain and working with the farm’s nutritionist to monitor body condition on a monthly basis.
“When a donor arrives at the farm, she is weighed and then her weight is checked monthly,” Gander said. “Each donor is required to have up-to-date vaccinations and a certificate of veterinary inspection prior to arrival. Then, we put our hands on each donor and perform physical and reproductive examinations.”
For Maddox, the goals of his farm’s program are simple: to create the greatest genetic improvement in their herd, while using IVF as a reproductive tool to help increase pregnancy rates in their lactating cows, particularly during their hot summer and fall weather.
“You can improve reproductive efficiency because you are starting with a pregnancy,” Maddox said. “You do not have to worry about if the cow will release an egg during her estrus.”
When determining what animals they wish to capitalize on the genetics of, Maddox uses genomic indicators to help make his selections, focusing on the top 1% of their animals for both Total Performance Index and Net Merit, as well as factoring in type and pedigree.
“I do have the show bug,” Maddox said. “So, we work some high-type show cows that many commercial dairymen wouldn’t consider using in an IVF program.”
Maddox looks to his program as a way of increasing the sale of genetics from his breeding program, and ultimately adding revenue to the farm, in terms of selling embryos both in the United States and internationally, and selling both live females and males for breeding purposes. In addition, the IVF lab at RuAnn is involved in a project to create sexed Angus embryos that Jersey breeders in their area are using as another option for adding value to calves born in their herd.
“IVF is really all about creating the best economic return you can,” Maddox said. “You just need to decide how to do that based on the goals you have for your herd.”
Once the donor has been selected and matings are considered, Dr. Shantille Kruse, Boviteq’s Director of U.S. Business Development, encourages producers to not fall short on their diligence to detail when selecting sires.
“Submit your mating selections early so that you have time to ask your practitioner and lab for feedback on previous results for those bulls,” Kruse said. “Be flexible on your sire selection, and maybe make changes instead of using poorly performing bulls.”
In the ever-changing world of genomics and dairy bull proofs, Kruse cautioned producers to introduce new young bulls into their IVF programs slowly to test their performance. She noted that a bull needs to be used at least three times before enough data on his performance can be collected to establish a pattern.
When setting the donor up for ovum collection, Gander is a believer in practicing dominant follicle removal and stimulating the donor with follicle stimulating hormone, noting that on average stimulating the donor with FSH will result in roughly twice the number of oocytes collected and embryos created, with more uniform quality.
The final piece of the puzzle when it comes to successfully using IVF technology in a herd is ensuring the recipients are in the best condition to take an IVF pregnancy.
Maddox uses heifers as IVF recipients for the first and second service on natural heats, as well as first and second lactation cows using a pre-synch and ovsynch protocol. He focuses on putting IVF eggs in Holstein recipients over 75 days in milk and Jersey recipients over 60 days in milk.
“Only the recipients that have a good CL will receive an embryo,” Maddox said. “We have found that our best results come with implanting embryos at days 7 and 8 after estrus, and have had pretty good luck with day 9, allowing us to implant our weekend heats on Mondays.”
Heifers at RuAnn Dairy are checked for pregnancy via ultrasound at 40 to 47 days post-estrus (not implantation). Lactating cows are checked via blood sample at 28 to 34 days following estrus, potentially helping to decrease the number of days in milk for each lactation.
Maddox warned that IVF will not turn a poor reproductive program into a good one, but that it can take a good reproductive program to the next level, creating great benefits within the herd.
“A live, healthy calf is the ultimate goal,” Maddox said. “Better quality embryos create more pregnancies. Attention to detail at every level is the key to making IVF work to better your herd.”
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