The Ministry of Agriculture in its continued efforts to modernize the livestock sector has adapted the embryo transfer technology program to improve beef and dairy genetics in Fiji.
Embryo transfer technology is globally recognized as the fastest method of genetic improvement in herds without involving the movement of live breeding cattle. The process improves cattle reproduction through the insertion of in-vitro fertilized embryos into the uterus of a selected recipient cow with the aim to induce pregnancy.
Acting Senior Research Officer Livestock, Ronil Prasad said this technology allowed the developing of pure-bred embryos under sterilized laboratory conditions from the donor cattle and the local recipient cattle to synchronize to accept these embryos.
“Oocytes (eggs) are collected via ultrasound-guided aspiration of ovarian follicles at any stage of the cow’s oestrus cycle; these oocytes are then fertilized and matured in the laboratory using the selected semen from a bull [In Vitro Fertilization].”
“The resulting embryos are then cultured for a further seven days and transferred into suitably synchronized recipients. The embryos can be further frozen, stored and used later depending on the breeding plan,” Prasad said.
The Ministry is now in the second phase of the embryo transfer technology program and a team of biotechnology experts from Australia recently transferred 90 embryos into local cows at the Livestock Research stations around the country.
“The first lot of embryos was transferred into 78 cows at the Sigatoka Research Station in December 2017 and the success rate was 51%. These cows are due to give birth in September this year. The resulting pregnancy rates in the region using this technology are expected to be 50% or greater depending on the management and reproductive capability of the cattle,” Prasad said.
Meanwhile, Director of Australian Reproductive Technology, Simon Walton said the genetics brought here were particularly adapted to tropical environments and would do well under Fiji’s climatic conditions.
“These breeds have been proven and tested in Australia under the same conditions as Fiji with similar weather patterns and pasture. The process began in Australia where very elite animals were selected to make embryos under strict quarantine regulations,” Walton added.
“In nine months’ time, these cows will have very elite genetic cattle from Australia. A breed that is well suited to the Fijian environment,” he said.
He added climate change had affected the cattle industry and the onus was on decision-makers to ensure that reared cattle should be better suited to warmer conditions; however, different animals were adapted to different environments genetically to tolerate heat or cold.
“The embryo transfer technology program initiates an increase in cattle genetics, increase in milk production yield and quality. It will also increase beef production, quality of meat and improves the fertility of the animals.
“This genetics will filter down to the local farmers after adaptability studies by the researchers so that they can be used to improve on-farm genetics through proper breeding plans in future. Intensive and extensive training programs for local farmers and Ministry staff will be further conducted to learn this technology,” Mr Walton said.
The Ministry of Agriculture has committed to this program to ensure there is a quick introduction of improved bloodline and to build a genetic pool of ruminants in our country. This technology is also targeted to rehabilitate the cattle industry from the effects of bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis through producing quality cattle breeds.