According to Oleynik, approximately 85% of all normal fertile donors will respond to superovulation treatment with an average of five transferable embryos. Some cows are repeatedly treated at 60-day intervals with a slight decrease in embryo numbers over time. The donor animal is then inseminated with semen from the breeding bulls. One bull can be used or semen from multiple bulls can also be used to impregnate the cow. Seven days after insemination, the cows are flushed and the embryos are collected. This is done by a small synthetic rubber catheter, which is inserted through the cervix of the donor cow. A special medium is flushed in and out of the uterus to harvest the embryos. When this is completed, embryos are examined under a microscope and then either transferred to recipient animals or frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen for later transfer into recipient animals. Recipient animals also form an integral part of the success of an embryo transfer program and have to be managed carefully to ensure as many pregnancies as possible result from the embryo transfer.
Another important part of the success is testing the genetics. “Russia is still lagging behind in terms of cattle genomic testing. Together with Scientific and Production Center for Biotechnology and Embryo Transfer and Moscow State University, we are therefore planning to start cattle genetic testing. It gives a snapshot of the genetic makeup of an animal and identifies cows’ production characteristics (milk, fat and protein yield), conformation (udder, legs and capacity) and health conditions (somatic cell score, fertility etc). Genetic profiling of heifers also provides a powerful genetic basis for the many breeding, selection and marketing decisions,” Oleynik explains.
Over 2,000 embryos flushed
Holstein cows are one of the most popular breeds among Russian farmers. According to the latest data (1 January 2015) from the Russian Research Institute of Animal Breeding, there are nearly 278,000 heads of Holstein cattle including 176,610 cows in Russia. In the Krasnodar region, where Kuban Agro operates, Holstein cows are the third most popular (equivalent to around 27.3% of the dairy herd population) after the Black-and-White (30.7%) and Red Steppe Breed (27.9%). According to Oleynik, embryo transfer technology, used by the company over the last two years, has already proven its feasibility.
“Since the opening of the Embryo Biotechnology Center in Ust-Labinsk in 2014, Kuban Agro has received 478 transplant calves including 233 dairy heifers from nearly 400 Holstein donor cows. In December 2014, Kuban Agro celebrated the birth of the first transplant heifer Zhuravushka which will give birth to its first calf in October-November 2016,” Oleynik says. Over 2,000 embryos have been flushed from donor Holsteins since 2014. Some of them have been frozen, while the remainder have been implanted to 1,211 Ayrshire cows resulting in 649 pregnancies. The embryo transfer technique will also help in reducing the culling rate in Russia. The company estimates that cattle culling rates in Russia range from 18% to 35% per annum, due to udder problems, death or slaughter.
“This means that up to 35% of the dairy herd population should be replaced every year. Kuban Agro’s annual culling rate stands at 25%. We are planning to fully replace culled cows with our own Holstein transplant cows by 2018. With our current 8,688-head dairy herd, this means that we will be replacing over 2,000 cows every year starting from 2018. This is our main target in terms of development of embryo transfer technology at Kuban Agro, Oleynik concludes.