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What you need to participate in embryo transfer project

SMART HARVEST
By Jacqueline Mahugu | August 27th 2016

Any breed of cattle, even those considered genetically inferior, can give birth to high genetics cattle, thanks to the embryo transfer technology.

In addition, the technology enables cows of superior genetics to have multiple calves, such that one cow can have 10 offspring in a year.

Dr Maurice Cherogony from the East African Semen and Embryo Transfer Association (EASETA) says they are working to encourage the uptake of embryo transfer in the country, and advises farmers on what it takes to either use your high genetics cows as donors or produce high genetics cows from the cattle you already own.

EASETA prefers that farmers who want to participate in the programme are registered with the Kenya Livestock Breeders’ Organisation, the agency responsible for all the stud book records of this country. The stud book is an official list of animals within a specific breed whose parents are known.

“That way, whatever embryos are produced, we know they can be sold without any questions. However, for a farmer who would want to produce their own embryos, he personally does not necessarily have to be fully registered, but we encourage him to ensure that his animals are registered,” says Dr Cherogony.

Farmers who would want to buy cows outside their farm are advised to work with EASETA so that they don’t buy livestock that might end up not being used for the programme.

“When we work together during buying we then start the treatment, which would take a whole month from inspection. We also take the cows through a series of four or five treatments before they are ready to receive the embryos,” says Dr Cherogony.

Requirements

“We recommend that a farmer prepares at least five animals because you don’t get 100 per cent conception,” says Dr Cherogony.

He says the rate of conception has been 50 per cent, although this has gone up in some places, where the animals responded well to treatment and have 70 or 80 per cent conception.

It is critical that the farmer gets nutrition for the animal right from the very beginning.

“We only allow the use of this technology after we have inspected the animals to make sure they are in good condition and are fed properly,” he says.

Without this, the animals would not respond well, whether as donors or surrogates.

“In fact to minimise the risk of poor harvest, we recommend that the donor cows be dried to be off-milk, so that we get the maximum milk for the embryos,” says Cherogony.

Whatever kind of animals they are, including borans, they need to be in good condition.

Some of the determinants of good condition include the cow being well fed so that its bones are not visible, the walking is upright with no lameness, and the eyes are not bloodshot.

It should also have been given enough water so it is not dehydrated and proper vaccination should have been done from the beginning.

“They need to be cycling (in reference to the females’ reproductive cycle) every 21 days as expected and they should be free from any disease or injury,” says Dr Cherogony.

Cost

Cost depends on the format one would like, as there are farmers who like to do both harvesting and transfer.

“There are those who just want to buy embryos and have them transferred to their cows. “There are also businessmen who want to produce embryos from their own cows and sell,” says Cherogony.

The packages will be different for both formats, but a small farmer who would just want to buy an embryo to be implanted in his own surrogates would spend between Sh25,000 and Sh35,000 per embryo. Depending on distance, the transfer work would be Sh15,000 to Sh25,000.

The technology comes in two forms; multiple ovulation embryo transfer, done inside the cow and invitro embryo transfer which is the equivalent of test-tube babies.

“In invitro transfer, we remove eggs from the superior donor cows, which are the ones with a lot of milk and then we mature them in a lab,” says Dr Cherogony. “When they are ready, wetransfer them to the farmer’s animals called surrogates. They are usually of lower genetic value such as low-yielding Friesians.”

Multiple ovulation transfer involves the use of hormones directed to the ovaries.

“The hormones enable the ovaries to release several eggs at a go, instead of releasing one as they would in a normal situation,” he says.

This process uses Artificial Insemination when the donor animal is on heat. Seven days later, a process called flushing or harvesting is carried out on the animal.

“This is basically removing the embryos that have formed as the semen and the ova have met and fertilised,” says Dr Cherogony.

“We trap the embryos in a special filter then take it to a microscope. We then pick the embryos individually, load them in straws like the ones of semen and put them in the recipients, which are the several cows that have been prepared.”

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