Beef Focus: Flushing females and implanting embryos at Bovi Genetics

Located in the hills of Loughduff in Co. Cavan, the well-known Bovi Genetics completes its operations of embryo services on both beef and dairy cows.

Eddie Lynch owns and completes all of the embryo transfer (ET) work for the business – which has been in operation for over 40 years. His wife Zara also works for the company and completes the office admin involved with the transfers.

The company was originally established by Hugh McGovern based in Castlewarden, Co. Kildare. Following Hugh’s retirement, Eddie officially took over the business in 2010, with new state-of-the-art facilities in his Co. Cavan holding.

AgriLand visited the business recently to see exactly what is involved with ET in cattle and Eddie provides some insight into how to get your animals ready for flushing.

Eddie Lynch, with his son Ben and nephew Darragh

What does Bovi Genetics provide?

The basic operations of Bovi Genetics involves the flushing of donor cows and then the implanting of embryos into recipient females.

As part of an ET programme, the donor females and recipients are provided with a list of injections that must be completed and these can vary in different females depending on their reproductive status.

Farmers have the option of completing this programme themselves at home and then bring the donor female to the centre on the day of the flush.

They also have the choice of leaving the females at the centre in Co. Cavan where they will complete the programme and the flush for the farmer.

The centre is also an export approved facility which means it can import and export embryos to different countries for their clients.

Why should a farmer consider flushing?

There can be both pros and cons to flushing females, although the main benefit is that it has the potential to aid genetic gains made within your herd. Eddie stated:

“ET has many benefits in certain ways; if you have a genetically superior animal and you want to enhance her value by multiplying the number of progeny or you want a sort of insurance policy incase anything happens to her, ET is something that can provide all of that.

“Also, it’s a very good back up incase your herd suffers from a disease outbreak, as you are somewhat saving your genetics if you have eggs frozen from your females.”

Identifying the female to flush

ET work in cattle is not something that can be thought of one night and then completed the following day. It can involve months of preparation and organisation in order to try and have a chance at success.

When it comes to identifying the female, Eddie explains:

“Results can vary depending on the type of animal you are flushing, but the first thing I will look for is a very fertile cow; a cow that has the potential to complete a full programme without giving any trouble.

The farmers, themselves, needs to identify the good breeding female in their herd, the cow that is breeding good progeny and that can potentially make them money.

“A cow, generally, never gets too old for flushing once she is still mobile, still fertile and in good general health.”

A Limousin cow that was flushed by Bovi Genetics and all of her ET born progeny

Making a plan

Once you have identified a female that you want to flush, the next step is to create a plan. This is where any success in embryo work is achieved.

“Farmers should contact their relevant breed society and find out what regulations need to be complied with from their point of view,” Eddie advised.

You don’t want to end up with embryos in the tank that can’t be used because of certain criteria not being met with your society or the department.

“Make sure your cow is cycling, ensure that she has been pre-scanned to check that everything is alright and she is reproductively OK.

“The big step in the plan is nutrition, the cow needs to be getting adequate energy through her feed.

“What I like to do is feed low protein levels and high energy levels, it’s pretty basic and simple, but once you follow those rules you should achieve good results.”

Flushing heifers and cows with calves at foot

On the topic of flushing heifers, he stated that he is often asked if heifers can be flushed and the short answer to that question is “yes”. He explains:

Once a maiden heifer is of proper age and is old enough that she is cycling soundly and is reproductively mature – there is no reason why a she can’t give an optimum number of embryos every bit as good as cows.

“The average results from cows or heifers that achieve successful flushes can be between five to seven embryos.”

Farmers also question whether or not they can flush a cow if she has a calf at foot. Again, this can be done, according to Eddie.

“Ideally, I like to see cows that are suckling calves or in milk calved for a minimum of three months before we start them on an ET programme. If they are suckling a calf or in milk just ensure that appropriate energy levels are being achieved.”

Selecting semen

One of the biggest challenges for farmers to face during the ET programme is the selecting of sires to use on the flush.

With a range of sires available through the use of AI, it can be hard to narrow down what bull is going to cross well with a female unless she has produced progeny from the flush before. Even then, the progeny results may vary.

In terms of semen quality when it comes to selecting straws, he claims: “Firstly, farmers should try and identify a fertile bull. Select a bull that has a proven history and a proven track record.

“Aim to stay away from semen that has been manhandled from tank to tank and try to acquire straws through a reputable business that you know their semen is fertile.”

Selecting and managing recipients

A recipient is the female that embryos are going to be implanted into and hopefully going to carry the calf for a term of nine months. The work involved with these females is just as important as the management of the donor cow.

“You need to have a plan in place for your recipients. Have your recipients on the farm in adequate time before you start the programme so that you can complete all of your vaccinations in time.

They should not be over fat, which can be a common problem – if anything they should be under-fed rather than over-fed. Most importantly they should be on a rising plain of nutrition.

“The most important thing with recipients is heat detection, make sure that they are cycling regularly and ensure that you record proper heats.

“The ideal age for recipients that I would like to be using is in or around that year and half old and having a weight around 400-450kg.”

Don’t be afraid to ask the questions

There can be a lot of new information to absorb when a farmer is first considering embryo work. Keeping this in mind, they should never be afraid to if they have questions or if they need to know more information.

“When it comes to embryo work we always get asked a number of questions, and I would say there is no such thing as a stupid question if a farmer wants to know about ET.

“I would rather if they ask plenty of questions and they are informed of what the whole process involves.

“It’s only by asking these questions that they will find out how to achieve the best results,” Eddie concluded.