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Embryo Transfer in Cattle. Introduction. Embryo Transfer is a expensive procedure, costing around $300 for each flush and approximately $270 for each calf born. Not including the cost of the semen.

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  • Embryo Transfer is a expensive procedure, costing around $300 for each flush and approximately $270 for each calf born. Not including the cost of the semen.
  • Students should understand that ET is a complicated procedure with a fairly high difficulty level.
  • ET should only be performed by trained professionals.
  • Explain the benefits of embryo transfer.
  • The impact that embryo transfer has on the livestock industry.
what is an embryo
What is an Embryo?
  • An embryo is an egg that has already been fertilized by a sperm cell.
  • It is an organism in the earliest stage of development.
what is embryo transfer
What is Embryo Transfer?
  • ET involves the removal of an embryo from a female of superior genetics and the placement of the embryo into the reproductive tract of a female of average genetics.
what is the goal of embryo transfer
What is the Goal of Embryo Transfer?
  • The goal of ET is to obtain the maximum number of genetically superior embryos in a minimum amount of time.
benefits of embryo transfer
Benefits of Embryo Transfer
  • Traditionally, cows produce only one calf per year. ET allows the production of many offspring within a year from a single cow.
benefits continued
Benefits (continued)
  • ET can increase the genetic potential of a herd in a relatively short period of time.
  • ET can increase milk production in dairy herds.
  • ET can increase weaning weights in beef and dairy herds.
benefits continued1
Benefits (continued)
  • ET allows other producers to take advantage of superior genetics because frozen embryos can be shipped almost anywhere.
  • ET preserves superior genetics for future generations due to embryo freezing.
the process of embryo transfer
The Process of Embryo Transfer
  • ET begins with the selection of a donor cow.
  • The donor cows will contribute the embryos to be transferred.
donor cows have superior characteristics
Donor Cows Have Superior Characteristics
  • High milking ability
  • High growth rate
  • Outstanding reproductive capacity

Recipient Cows

  • Finally, recipient cows must be selected.
  • Recipient cows serve as surrogate (foster) mothers to the calves, but contribute no genetic information.
  • For this reason, the genetic makeup of the recipient cow is not as important as the makeup of the donor cow.

Recipient Cows (continued)

  • However, the recipient cow must be able to maintain her pregnancy to term and produce an adequate milk supply for her calf.
synchronizing the estrous cycle
Synchronizing the Estrous Cycle
  • Once the donor and recipient cows have been selected, they must be synchronized so they are on the same phase of their estrous cycle.
  • It is important to synchronize estrous cycles because the reproductive environments of the donor and recipients must be identical in order for the embryo to survive the transfer.

Synchronizing the Estrous Cycle (continued)

  • The estrous cycle is controlled by the production and secretion of hormones at the proper time during the cycle.
  • Prostaglandin (PGF2α) is the hormone used to synchronize the estrous cycles of the donor and recipient cows.
synchronizing the estrus cycle continued
Synchronizing the Estrus Cycle (continued)
  • Prostaglandin is produced naturally by the cow. However, a synthetic version called Lutalyse is given in one or two injections intra muscular in the neck or hip to synchronize estrous cycles.
preparing the donor cow to be flushed
Preparing the Donor Cow to be Flushed
  • Before the donor cow is flushed, she is superovulated with a series of injections of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH).
  • Ovulation is the process of releasing eggs.
  • Superovulation causes the ovary (the female reproductive organ) to produce many follicles.

Preparing the Donor Cow to be Flushed (continued)

  • Follicles are small blister-like structures that develop on the ovary containing one egg each.
  • When the follicles ovulate, the eggs are released.
  • Superovulation ensures that many eggs will be released because there are many follicles present.
When the donor shows signs of estrus (the time period during the estrous cycle when she will allow breeding), she is ready to be bred.

Some signs of estrus are riding other cows, clear vaginal mucus, and pacing the fence.

Breeding the Donor Cow


The Flush

  • Once the donor cow has been bred, the embryos are allowed to grow for six days.
  • During this time the embryos also travels down the reproductive tract from the oviduct (the site of fertilization) to the uterus where they can be flushed out.
  • On the seventh day, the embryos are ready to be removed. This process is called flushing.

The Flush (continued)

  • Embryo professionals use a non-surgical method to remove the embryos. The process requires experience and a patient, steady hand.
the flush continued
The Flush (continued)
  • An injection of lidocaine is given prior to the flush to reduce pressure and stress on the donor cow and to make the flush easier for the ET professional.

The Flush (continued)

  • To begin the flush, a catheter is passed through the cervix into one uterine horn.
the flush continued1
The Flush (continued)
  • The catheter contains a balloon that is inflated with a saline solution in order to seal the entrance to the uterus so fluid and embryos are not lost.

Removing the Embryos

  • The uterine horn is filled with flush media and massaged to allow the embryos to flow out of the tract.
  • This process is repeated several times in each uterine horn.
collecting the embryos
Collecting the Embryos
  • Embryos are carried out of the reproductive tract through plastic tubes and collected in a filter with the flush media.
  • The pores in the filter are smaller than the embryos so excess fluid drains out of the filter without losing the embryos.

Injecting Penicillin

  • After the embryos have been flushed out, uterus injected with penicillin to kill any missed embryos or infections.

Embryo Statistics

  • An average of 7-10 embryos is collected from each flush.
  • However, the number of embryos obtained from a single flush may range anywhere from 0-60.
separating the embryos
Separating the Embryos
  • In the lab, embryos are separated from the flush media and examined under a microscope to determine their quality and stage of development.

Embryo Size and Quality

  • Embryos are microscopic in size (about 0.2 mm).
  • Only undamaged embryos at proper maturity should be transferred.
embryo quality
Embryo Quality

The embryos on the left are damaged and should not be transferred.

The embryo on the right is of proper maturity and quality and should be transferred.


Transferring the Embryos

  • The embryo to be transferred is put into a small, plastic straw and then loaded into an embryo transfer gun.
transferring the embryos continued
Transferring the Embryos (continued)
  • The embryo is then inserted into either the left or right uterine horn depending on which ovary has a corpus lutuem (CL).
  • The CL is a structure on the ovary that secretes the hormone progesterone which is needed to maintain the pregnancy.
transfer immediately or freeze
Transfer Immediately or Freeze
  • Embryos should be transferred as soon as possible after the flush (within 8 hours at least).
  • Embryos can also be frozen for later implantation and stored in liquid nitrogen tanks.

Benefits to Embryo Transfer

  • -A single heifer or cow is able to produce multiple
  • calves from the same genetic line.
  • -An older superior cow is able to donate ovules for
  • embryo transfer.
  • -Embryos can be frozen and stored for future use.


-In 1987, 3.6% (5,105) of all calves registered were a result of embryo transfer.

-In 2002, 25,093 calves resulting from ET were registered. This was 8.9% of all calves registered.

-In 2007, just under 40,000 calves resulting from ET were registered. This accounted for about 11.5% of total registrations.


Disadvantagesof ET

-Increased expenses and higher breakeven costs for calves.

• Requires a higher level of management.

• Increased potential for spread of certain diseases.

• Not all potential donors respond positively to treatment.

  • ET can be costly, so the return on the investment should always be greater than the input costs.
  • ET should only be performed using donor cows of superior genetics.
  • Bull selection should be based on superior genetics as well.
  • If the required conditions are met, embryo transfer can be a beneficial way to produce superior cattle.