Livestock farmers find a quicker fertilization option in embryo transfer

Livestock farmers in Kenya are producing upto ten calves in an year thanks to a new fertilization technology that involves transfer of a fertilized embryo from a donor, which in this case is a high yielding cow, to the recipient which then carries it to the end of the pregnancy, spelling a near end to livestocks' fertilization woes that have been responsible for low quality cows which have ultimately affected milk and meat production.

Dubbed Embryo transfer the technology allows use of local breeds, which are usually of low quality, and known as 'surrogate' mother cows by implanting embryos from high yielding cows. Scientists prefer Borana and Zebu as surrogates due to their physical shape and good mothering abilities. “The concept here is simple, any low quality can give birth to many high quality offsprings in just an year, a huge departure from what we have been seeing with bull servicing or artificial insemination. Again, the process is not surgical,”said Dr. Maurice Cherogony from the East Africa Semen and Embryo Transfer Association.

The process starts with a donor being subjected to hormonal treatment known in veterinary science as super ovulation to trigger release of many eggs. The embryos are then harvested after seven days and are screened to test whether they are normal and later implanted into surrogate cows. The number of calves produced per super ovulation is between three and four.

“It is possible to induce a cow to super ovulate four to five times a year. Ten calves can be produced  per cow per year,”he said. Farmers interested in the technology are advised on the procedures and a programme tailor made for them is developed, complete with financing options. The project is supported by th regional World Bank East African Agricultural Productivity Project (EAAPP).

However the prohibitive cost of the transfer has stood in the way of the farmers. A minimum package for embryo transfer is Sh200,000 which enables the harvesting of embryos from three donors and a transfer to a minimum of five surrogates.
The Association is however encouraging farmers to partner in groups or work with cooperatives to assist them meet the financial requirements.

The cost of producing embryos ranges between Sh5,000 and Sh7,000 per embryo which would not cost less than Sh20,000 to buy or sell. A well selected embryo transfer calf costs Sh150,000 at birth. Since 2010, Easeta has managed to flush more than 50 donors and obtain over 150 embryos.