Frequently asked questions on Embryo Transfer

Which females are better to use as embryo recipients?

The first indication of a good recipient is fertility. Heifers have the advantage of no lactation stress and therefore usually cycle better than cows. Heifers are also relatively cheaper to feed, because of their lower metabolic maintenance requirements.

With cows that have calved more than 3 times, you know that she is reproductive sound and functional and normally give good results with embryo conception. Cows are also better if the breed of the embryos is from a bigger framed cattle breed to ensure calving ease. Cows also have better milk production than heifers that ensures better weaning weights.

Cows that have calved only once, is naturally more difficult to get pregnant again and not preferred to be prepared as embryo recipients.

Owners should retain proven recipients or cows that successfully received an embryo on the previous occasion, to use again in the next season.

When does one know an animal can be used as a recipient?

With heifers we suggest the same guidelines as for normal breeding, that is two-thirds of the expected mature weight. This can differ depending on feeding, body condition and breed.

The synchronisation program can start as soon as 70 days after calving. 100 day after calving, lactation stress can cause the cow to be in a negative plane of the condition and this can reduce conception rate.

With supplementary feed (creep feed) calves can be weaned at 5 months in order to get their mothers ready for embryo transfer.

Which factors influence the success of embryo transfer?

Recipient factors: Fertility, age, temperament, adaptability, calving ease, adequate milk, body condition score and time post-partum.

Experience of the embryo transfer veterinarian.

The quality of the embryos transferred.

Proper facilities enable easy handling that reduces stress through the synchronisation program and specifically on embryo transfer day.

The weather has a major effect on conception as extreme weather condition may cause stress. Here it is important to manage environmental factors, but it is not always possible. For instance, with low temperatures, extra feed should be fed to supply the required nutrients for heat production.

Management of animal health and welfare, feeding and body condition, proper handling and movement to reduce stress and management the synchronisation program to be flawless.

Which breed of the recipient is the best?

Dual-purpose type of animals usually raises beautiful calves because of their extra milk. Most dairy breeds have very good temperaments, but all of this means nothing if they cannot adapt well to their surroundings, for example, extreme temperatures, parasite burdens etc.

If one has to buy in recipients, then you must choose animals that are best suited for your farm’s specific area. We suggest using hardy animals for extensive, semi-desert type conditions and give the heifers enough time to mature properly before using them as recipients.

Using animals which were raised by the breeders themselves are by far the best option because you know their ages, nutritional state, vaccination status and calving history.

If you do not have recipients available, the best way to go is buying young heifers and raise them yourself until a mate ready age. Another option is to buy heavily pregnant cows/cows with small calves at foot. Open cows are a red-light if buying.

What must I do with the recipients prior to the transfer program?

In the case of new animals, we suggest an adjustment period of two months. This is mainly for the digestive system to adjust to feeding changes. This phase ensures reduced stress during the synchronization program and after embryos transfer.

It is also important with new animals to be sure of the disease status. We suggest a Brucellosis (BM), Tuberculosis (TB) and Leucosis (EBL) test if possible. Vaccinations against disease, especially those directly affecting fertility should be administered. Treatment against internal and external parasites is also necessary.

It is also good practice to have the possible recipient group examined before the program start to ensure there is no pregnant animals and to check reproductive activity. This is something your local veterinarian can normally take care of.

Make sure the group of recipients is properly identified with an ear tag or brand. This should also be taken care of months before the program starts, as we do not want the extra stress just before or during the program.

Nutrition is extremely important and it is normally easier to start a program with animals in a slightly lower body condition. A month before the embryo transfer, you just supplement or increase their feed. It takes a lot of time to get the animals in proper condition if you start with animals that need to lose weight. It is preferred that animals be in a rising plane of the condition at the time of transfer and therefore you need to take care that animals do not get too fat during the period of increased feed.

Vitamins and minerals are detrimental to reproduction and conception; therefore, it is necessary to ensure the right supplements for your area is provided (injected) 4 to 6 weeks before embryo transfer.

Cattle with temperament problems should get used to handling facilities and being around people prior to the program as this is an indication of stress and stress has an influence on conception. You can achieve this by moving the animals to a came close to the crush, move them through the handling facilities every day or two and feed them after handling. This should reduce stress levels.

How many recipients should I prepare?

This depends on the number of embryos available for transfer. If you plan a fresh flush and transfer, it is good to always have backup frozen embryos in the flask to reduce the risk of excessive recipients at the end of the transfer day.

For each donor flushed, we suggest 10 recipients be prepared as the average donor flushes 5 embryos. In the case where only preserved (frozen) embryos are used, we suggest doubling the number of recipients be prepared. We prepare double the number of recipients, because, on average, only 50% of animals prepared will be used on the day of transfer.

Why are only 50% of recipients prepared used for embryo transfer?

Not all animals react adequately to the synchronisation program. We only use animals with proper reactions to ensure better conception rates.

The number of animals that reacted to the synchronisation program, can only be determined on the day of transfer.

Is heat spotting really necessary?

Heat spotting is crucial in any program! If you have a large group of recipients it will be best to divide them in smaller groups so that it is easier to see when the animals come on heat. If you have someone that can constantly check each group to see what time an animal comes on heat, that is best.

With embryo transfer and other programs, we make use of heat detection stickers. So, if it is not possible to have someone there the whole time, you could have someone check the group each morning and later afternoon to record which animals come on heat. If the recipient did not come on heat then the transfer won’t work.

Recordkeeping of the time of onset of standing heat is important for the veterinarian to interpret what he feels on the ovaries during palpation prior to transfer. This will also ensure that the best embryo stage is matched to each recipient. You have better conception rates when transferring embryos from a more advanced stage into recipients that came on heat earlier and younger embryos into recipients that came on heat later.

What kind of synchronization is the best?

Natural heats are usually very good to use, but they are impractical. If an animal not on your synchronisation program, comes on heat the same day as the preparation group you can choose to include this animal, but need to inform the veterinarian on the day of transfer.

With the use of only prostaglandins, you increase the percentage animals that come on heat and used on the day of transfer.  But you don’t get a tight synchronization which makes heat spotting over long period difficult. This will make it almost impossible to know when the recipient came on heat or which stage embryo to transfer.

We recommend the use of an intravaginal hormone releasing device, with some injectable hormones. This program gives the precise number of specific hormones needed at a dedicated day to ensure that recipient come on heat in a shorter time.

When can pregnancy diagnosis be done on recipients?

The most accurate way to determine pregnancy is through rectal examination, but it can only be done by a veterinarian and only 10 weeks after the day of embryo transfer. If an examination is done earlier than this, you could compromise the embryo/foetus and cause a resorption.

A second option is to do an ultrasound, this is less compromising and could be done between 28 to 56 days after transfer.

Another way to determine pregnancy early on, is through a blood test 28 days after embryo transfer. Blood collection should be done in a correct and safe manner to ensure a little stress and discomfort to the recipient.

Can any veterinarian do embryo transfer?

No, only a trained practitioner can do embryo flushing and transfer. To register an embryo calf, the veterinarian also needs to sign documentation for the registration to be permitted.

Can I artificially inseminate (AI) the recipients after embryo transfers, if they come on heat again?

It is possible for a recipient to show false heat after embryo transfer and therefore we suggest not to AI the recipient with the first signs of heat. You are welcome to AI on the second heat. False heat is common, especially in dairy herds.