When reproductive technologies became available, dairy producers quickly embraced them, including artificial insemination (A.I.) and embryo transfer (ET). Today, producers remain engaged and readily utilize these technologies to create the newest, best genetics as quickly as possible to advance herd progress.

Grussing taylor
Client Experience Manager / Vytelle

Yet, incorporation of these technologies adds tasks and levels of management to the regular responsibilities of the day. Managers need to be able to apply these technologies in a low-stress way to minimize any undue pressure on cows and without disturbing lactation and reproductive performance.

Reproductive technologies such as A.I., ET and in vitro fertilization (IVF) historically require administration of hormones to synchronize or stimulate donors. Specifically, ET calls for additional labor and extra lockups to perform extra follicle stimulation steps. These steps significantly drive up the cost of utilizing this technology and create animal stress. While genetic progress remains critical to herd improvement, reproductive systems need to be simplified to match dairy producers’ needs and meet consumer expectations for humane animal care.

So what if you could develop embryos from any donor without the stress of hormone stimulation? A process exists that allows any female that can be palpated (usually at least 7 months old) up to 100 days of gestation to qualify as a donor.

Without having to administer shots before the ovum pick-up (OPU) process, cows and heifers only need to be handled once while being loaded in the chute or stall for collection. After collection, animals can return to normal housing with no shots needed either before or after collection. Donor oocytes are then sent to the lab for fertilization with semen of choice to create embryos for implantation into recipient animals.


How does IVF work without hormones?

As an industry, we often misunderstand the purpose of giving follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) in advanced reproduction programs. FSH is a naturally occurring hormone that stimulates the growth of follicles in the ovary before the release of an egg at ovulation.

Some mistakenly believe FSH is necessary to increase egg production IVF procedures. In fact, FSH does not increase the number of oocytes, or eggs, the cow produces. FSH simply increases the size of the follicles on the ovary so follicles are more visible and easier to collect. Our company’s OPU system allows oocytes of any size to be collected from donors and then fertilized in the lab to create embryos – without administering any donor shots.

Long-term herd benefits

Eliminating shots simplifies the IVF process and makes it easier to improve herd genetics with advanced reproductive technology. Additionally, there are long-term herd benefits of IVF without FSH.

Herd longevity is critical to farm success. Managing optimum days in milk and days open is key to profitability. Extra days open can cost as much as $3 per head per day for each additional day over 110 days.

Without FSH, IVF can be done on pregnant cows, helping get donors re-bred and avoiding extra days open, which affects the lactation curve as well.

With the average productive life of dairy females at just over two lactations, it’s beneficial to capture the best genetics at a very young age. Forty percent of first-lactation heifers are culled each year due to failure to re-breed; consequently, getting donors pregnant is key to genomic growth and classification. Maximizing genetic potential with hormone-free IVF allows more opportunities to OPU young donors before and after they join the milking herd without interfering with their normal reproductive function.

Because the process does not require hormone treatments to set up donors for OPU, technicians can re-collect oocytes from the same donors as soon as seven days after the first collection. Traditional methods of using conventional ET on heifers and IVF for cows no longer ring true. More than two-thirds of the dairy donors utilizing IVF today are virgin or bred heifers, and the remaining are lactating cows.

Utilization of shot-free IVF avoids extra lockups, as donors do not need shots 12 hours apart. Donors stay in their stalls or pens until needed for OPU.

Lactating donors can bring additional challenges to breeding systems, as the steps must work into the dairy milking routine. Daily moves for lactating cows in and out of the parlor are routine, but any additional handling or lockups can potentially increase days open. Therefore, shot-free IVF improves animal comfort while still multiplying the best genetics and remaining focused on optimizing donor peak lactation and re-breeding performance.

Research shows improvements in milk yield of up to 15% when cows are handled properly. Low-stress cattle handling not only improves milk yield but also efficiencies of time and money, which have long-term benefits to all herds.

Animal comfort remains a top priority for dairy producers. Stress-free, simple application of advanced reproductive technologies is necessary for producers to advance herd genetics while addressing the animal care demands of consumers and the supply chain. Hormone-free IVF technology will drive profitability and is a positive step to reinforce the industry’s dedication to animal well-being.

References omitted but are available upon request by sending an email to an editor.