Why Do We Transfer Embryos?

Growing up in the dairy industry on my family’s registered (purebred) Holstein farm taught me a lot about what the ideal (true-type as we call it in the dairy world) Holstein looks like. At a young age I started judging and showing dairy cattle so that deepened my understanding of what desirable characteristics both dairy farmers and dairy cattle judges search for. Through a course at South Dakota State University, where I gained my Bachelors in Agriculture Dairy Production, I learned more specifically why each of the characteristics are desired and what their specific purpose is. Each trait or characteristic that a dairy cattle judge views as ideal has a purpose beyond just “looks”. For example, the udder is the most important part of a dairy cow because it is what produces the delicious milk for all of us. So when a judge is looking at an udder, he or she wants that udder to look a certain way, because often times when the udder is phenotypically correct (looks correct) it CAN perform it’s function well, by producing a lot of quality milk! There are many more details to looking at an udder as a judge, but I hope that helps you understand the general idea. Beyond learning about specific characteristics, I personally learned what the ideal Holstein looks like through working with dairy cattle most of my life, and got to see why these traits are necessary and why they help the cow. The topic of this post is about embryo transfer making that a long introduction that doesn’t exactly cover the very scientific, technical procedure of transferring embryos. While there may be some of you interested in the science side of embryo transfer that isn’t why I am writing about it today. I would just like to help folks understand why we do it. Although the science is very interesting so I would encourage you to read this book, found at the Hoard’s Dairyman, http://www.hoards.com/bookstore/EMBR. I share a copy with my brother, and highly recommend it!

First the definition of embryo transfer, according to the California Department of Consumer Affairs, Veterinary Medical Board, “Embryo transfer is a procedure whereby an embryo is removed from a donor cow and placed in the uterus of a recipient cow for the duration of gestation (full-term pregnancy). The procedure is commenced by administering hormones to the donor cow to induce “superovulation” (meaning the cow ovulates more than one egg) whereupon the animal is usually artificially bred. Approximately seven to ten days later, the transfer takes place by administering an epidural anesthesia to the donor cow and removing the fertilized ova by a manual procedure of directing a catheter through the cervix into the uterine horn. Several doses of small amounts of nutrient medial are placed into the uterine horn and then pulled out by either suction with a syringe or gravity flow. The media recovered from the uterine horns is searched for ova and those deemed viable are inserted into the recipient cow in a procedure similar to artificial insemination.”

Last summer, while interning, I had the opportunity to shadow a veterinarian, Dr. Daniela, also known as the embryologist for the Maddox Dairy and RuAnn Dairy, for a couple of days (www.maddoxdairy.com for more information). My other experiences around embryo transfer are on my family’s dairy, Watertown Holsteins, where my younger brother, now certified in embryo transfer, performs the procedure. In the past we have also had another great embryo transfer technician from Simple Dreams Genetics Inc. of Hull, IA. So here’s the point, we along many other dairy farmers and ranchers use embryo transfer to help increase the rate at which our genetics improve. As stated earlier, the traits we want in animals help them to live happier and more productive lives. We choose to flush, (slang for embryo transfer, in reference to flushing the uterine body) cows because they have those desirable traits that make give their bodies longevity, productivity and beauty. Another huge part of the decision to flush a cow is knowing the cow’s pedigree, who her parents and grandparents were. In the dairy world we call her mother, her dam, and her father, her sire. Then granddam for grandma, and grandsire for grandpa. Currently there is a huge boom in genomics in the dairy industry, and that also largely affects which cattle are chosen for the embryo transfer procedure. By increasing the rate at which our genetics progress in our herd, we can increase the number of animals that have the desirable characteristics, and decrease the number that don’t. Basically we would like more beautiful cows, who do a fabulous job producing high quality milk. Instead of waiting for that one beautiful cow (who has the desirable traits, pedigree, and produces lots of milk) to have one baby a year, we can have multiple babies from her! The thing is, she doesn’t have to physically have all of the embryos found thanks to being able to transfer the embryos to recipients for the full pregnancy. As the world population increases to 9 billion people by 2050, farmers and ranchers across the livestock industry will be expected to produce more food. As we look to do this we want and need to have cattle that perform their best, look their best and because they look their best, in turn will feel their best since these traits help that cow live a longer, happier and more productive life. Having my cows feel their best is very important to me, so next time you hear about embryo transfer remember it is not only about having better cows, but cows that feel better and do their job better too!

Be sure to email any questions to me at schweerana@gmail.com. I love telling people about one of my passions, dairy!


Soaking in the Knowledge

I can’t believe it is already March 2013, wow time has flown by! During spring break I had the opportunity to shadow a vet from the Worthington Veterinary Medical Center. With her I visited a few different locations learning more about:
Calf care, performing ketone tests after drawing blood samples from cows, mastitis caused by Prototheca – an algae, different strains of bacteria that cause calf scours and their characteristics, and discussed some trends in the use of antibiotics and of course there was much more. I always enjoy visiting with veterinarians because they are so knowledgable!

This past week I shadowed vets from the Dell Rapids Vet Clinic.  During my time there I learned about:
Transition cow management, the 4DX snap test, helped deliver a baby lamb, helped euthanize a dog in pain, examined microscope slides from a dog with a yeast skin infection. I also got to visit with the head vet of the clinic about resumes and what kind of experiences are most valuable and when you should be attaining the needed skills to be a vet.  All of the vets and folks at the clinic have so much knowledge!  It’s a privilege having the opportunity to shadow some great veterinarians!  I always look forward to shadowing! 

As far as what I have been up to with the dairy, my family and I stay busy as usual doing the daily chores and various projects.  Though I am only home on the weekends I visit with my dad and brother throughout the week about happenings on the dairy.  This past week we had a two new heifers born!  The mothers are doing well and so are the two new additions to the herd.  With the cold weather we have been bedding the cattle more and more and hope that spring is just around the corner!  The Holstein cows have been producing 83 pounds of milk a day.  When I come home on the weekends some of the things I that do include keeping up to date on the vaccinations of calves, bed cattle, feed cattle, site clean-up, and milk the cows.  I also like to put my skills of observation to the test by walking through our different pens trying to pick up any abnormal behaviors that could mean an animals needs treatment.  There is a never ending to-do list around the farm, but we chip away at it one day at a time!

Lastly, I am thankful for each day the good Lord grants me.  So, I leave you with a quote and a verse, The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice and be glad.  Psalm 118:24  

Everyday is a good day to be a sponge, as in soak it all in because today is only going to happen once!  After all you can never soak up too much knowledge! 

Learn more about the 4DX snap test: http://www.idexx.com/view/xhtml/en_us/smallanimal/inhouse/snap/4dx.jsf?SSOTOKEN=0

Learn more about ketosis, why we test for ketones in cows: http://www.merckvetmanual.com/mvm/index.jsp?cfile=htm/bc/80900.htm

Hold that Vein!

Today we trimmed hooves here at Watertown Holsteins and it was a rather eventful day!  Unfortunately one of my family’s cows, with one of her freshly trimmed hooves, gouged her udder causing one of the veins in it to break!  500 gallons of blood run through a cow’s udder to produce one gallon of milk.  On average a cow here on our farm produces around nine gallons of milk a day.  That means there is A LOT of blood going through their udders ALL THE TIME!  So in the emergency my dad grabbed towels and a hemostat, which is a clamp.  Fortunately I have seen an accident like this before and was able to clamp the vein shut.  Then I waited with the cow till the veterinarian arrived to sew her vein shut.  Fortunately, the vein that was cut won’t affect her milk quality and she’ll continue to help put quality milk in the world’s cereal!  I am very thankful that she is doing fine and the vet seemed to think she would heal in no time at all.  There is never a dull moment on our dairy farm, and that’s just part of the reason I love my job here.  Dairy farming has it’s challenges but everyday I do my best caring for God’s creatures – even when it means holding that vein!

From Stomachs to Souls with Dreams and Goals!

Well I cannot believe I have already been working here at Watertown Holsteins for just over two months!  It has been a huge learning experience already as I am working with my family, and gaining new responsibilities on the dairy.  The time that I was without a Mac was actually a blessing in disguise.  Even though I missed blogging a lot, it’s been hard to get back in the swing of things!  However that time allowed me to reflect on my summer, my college career and decide what goals I think God wants me to pursue in the near future.  I always learn a lot during an experience but even more from reflecting on it as time passes.  As I look back on my summer I feel blessed to have been given knowledge, training, hands-on experience, and friends at Maddox Dairy on my internship.  It was an inspiring place for me to be!  I set out for California in May after graduation excited to see more of the dairy industry in another state.  But I didn’t realize that I would learn and gain so much that it would change my life.

When I arrived, I felt like an olympic athlete before he or she walks in to the Olympic training center for the first time.  He or she feels excited, nervous, proud and just can’t wait to get to work!  Because for me, as seriously as an olympic athlete takes their training, I take mine, as I prepare for a career in the dairy industry, in agriculture.

My journey through dairy started when I was just a young little girl, but it has a long, long ways to go.  In the last few weeks of my internship I had a chance to practice artificial insemination, trim hooves, shadow the manager, and shadow the veterinarian of the embryo transfer program at Maddox and RuAnn Dairies.  For everything that I was taught during my internship, I told the folks there I ought to be paying them for letting me come!  For me, it was a one of a kind experience.  Through the internship this summer, my college career and in the recent weeks I have determined that I am going to full on pursue my dream to become a veterinarian.  It is a dream I have had since I first watched a vet fix a cow’s displaced abomasum here at my home farm when I was about eight years old.

Ever since it’s one of those dreams that has always lingered, even as I pursued and completed my degree in dairy production from South Dakota State.  Through college, I went back and forth many times wondering and asking myself “what do I really want?”  To me it is a huge commitment and when I was trying to make it before it wasn’t the right time in my life.  I can see now that my faith along with all the experiences and activities I committed to in college helped me become what I am, and I believe they will ultimately help me reach my goals in this life.  Now, I know of course that I have to be accepted to a veterinary school, and that itself is extremely competitive.  But now I have the right attitude and motivation for going after that acceptance letter.

I believe it is important to follow and trust God in making decisions.  Even though I don’t always do that; I am trying to more and more each day.  The biggest thing we all have to do in this life is admit that we mess up, we make wrong choices, follow the wrong path.  The best thing part is that God is always there to put you back on the right track.  There are always consequences for our actions, but He never gives up on us!  Sometimes I wonder why on earth God gave me the passions I have, but then I remember that God put them in me for a specific purpose.  I also know without a doubt that His timing is best and that He will give me the strength I need.  When I was young I never dreamed that my generation would have to produce enough food for 9 billion people by 2050!  Not only that but we have to do it more efficiently with less land and resources!  On top of that, as agriculturalists, we have to advocate and prove over and over again that we are doing our very best to produce wholesome food from the land and animals we value and care for.  Everyday I am thankful and happy that I can help feed the world!  For me feeding the world isn’t just about filling stomachs either, it’s also about feeding souls too.  I have many dreams and goals that align with feeding stomachs and souls, but first I am going to follow my dream of becoming a veterinarian.

We all only have one life, just as an athlete may only get chance to attend the Olympics.  We have to make each day count!  Life is meant to be lived with purpose, it is not just a right you have.  It has been given to you by our Creator above.  It is my task be a part of agriculture, to bring honor and glory to God through it, to love others as He does, to help grow and produce the needed food, and to trust Him to make it all come together.  The road ahead will be tough, but at the end of the day I KNOW He knows what is best.  In reality, we are all like Olympic athletes training for the race ahead.  It is just that some of us are “in the training center” and some of us are watching from the outside.