As dairies seek to mitigate financial risk, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is moving to the forefront as a tool to capitalize on the best genetics in their herds through timely pregnancies, shorter calving intervals and reduced days open.

Whether you are targeting higher genetic merit in multiple traits or maximizing volume and component output in the bulk tank, IVF allows forward-thinking dairy producers to manage risk and advance profitability. Here are three ways IVF can provide a competitive advantage for herds large and small.

1. Capitalize quickly on the best genetics

Dairy producers continually strive to bring new and better genetics into their herds as fast as possible. Decades ago, they adopted artificial insemination (A.I.) to increase offspring of sires with elite genetic merit. Sexed semen and genomics further condensed the generation interval to a point where genetics from young females are valued even before they join the milking herd. Now IVF technology brings new genetics into a herd from young heifers or bred cows in one generation, helping the producer achieve a more profitable enterprise.

Through genomic evaluations, producers can identify genetically superior females at a very young age. However, there is a time delay before those genetics enter the herd, since heifers don’t reach puberty until 9 months old and don’t calve until 22 to 24 months old. New IVF technology allows young dairy females to contribute to the herd’s genetic pool earlier while maintaining their fertility for future breeding opportunities.

Cattle begin follicular development at 2 weeks old and continually grow and regress follicles on the ovary through their entire lives. Unlike conventional embryo production, which cannot occur until females reach puberty, hormone-free IVF technology allows ovum pick-up (OPU) and IVF from heifers as soon as a veterinarian is able to palpate the ovaries – usually at about 6 to 7 months old.


Trained veterinary reproductive specialists can visualize the young heifer’s ovaries and follicles with an ultrasound device and use a needle to aspirate follicles. Oocytes are collected, cleaned and fertilized with regular or reverse-sorted semen to sire or sires of choice to create embryos that can be transferred into recipient females.

Every seven to 10 days a new follicular wave is available for OPU, so oocytes can continue to be collected bi-weekly from heifers through the second trimester of gestation. For cows, collection can begin 15 days post-calving through the second trimester.

2. Set up specialized herd genetics

Dairy managers can utilize IVF to develop a specialized genetic profile to meet specific business goals or market needs for their operations. For example, dairies looking to maintain an F1 herd can utilize IVF to continually maximize this genetic line more effectively and rapidly than with traditional A.I. and synchronization programs.

Long-standing research shows the advantage of crossbreeding on reproductive traits such as earlier achievement of puberty, fewer days open and greater pregnancy rates. Yet after an F1 herd is started from crossbreeding (example: purebred Jersey crossed with a purebred Holstein), further A.I. breeding of the F1 female will decrease heterosis due to genetic dilution over time.

Alternatively, producers can utilize IVF to place F1 embryos into F1 recipient females and continually generate more F1 offspring without diluting genetic merit. Embryo transfer of F1 embryos into recipient females creates a more flexible breeding program and reduces cost associated with raising a purebred herd.

3. Create value-added business opportunities

The ease and speed of advanced IVF embryo production techniques offers opportunities for dairy operations of any size to add revenue and profit to their operation through unique and differentiated services.

For example, a dairy could set up females as recipient animals and market them to larger dairies looking to increase implantation numbers and achieve more pregnancies for herd expansion. Heifer-growing operations are in an ideal position to handle synchronization and management of recipient females for sale to operations that want to take advantage of donor females with high genetic merit.

A dairy with the right facilities could provide donor management or calf management, perhaps in conjunction with an IVF provider. With no follicle-stimulated hormone (FSH) required for donor females, new IVF technology would be easy to manage as a value-added service. There is no extra labor need for daily shots as required with conventional IVF and superovulation embryo transfer processes. Donors can remain in the pen or pasture until collection time, then go right back into their normal environment afterwards.

Overall, IVF technology opens new opportunities for dairy profitability, whether through faster progress toward a higher-performing herd or through differentiated services that create new revenue streams.  end mark

Michael Bishop