Predetermined sex in offspring is the brass ring that dairy breeders seek in managing in the ever more competitive marketplace. Most definitely this control is becoming more achievable. Sexed semen end user price has dropped to one third of the price it was when it was first introduced.
Sexing Technologies (ST) is a well known, worldwide provider of sexed semen and embryos. Juan Moreno, who is co-owner of ST with Maurice Rosenstein, outlines the business that has been built by this company.
Sexing Technologies owes its origin to a company called Genetic Resources International (GRI) which got started 22 years ago as a Custom Semen and Embryo collection facility and Genetics Exporter servicing the Southern US. While considering expansion into the IVF world 12 years ago. They discovered that sexed semen, although technologically possible, was not commercially available because it was consider too expensive and of lower fertility and therefore did not have commercial viability. He outlines the steps taken in forming Sexing Technologies. “The partners in the business 11 years ago went heavily into debt to obtain a license from XY Inc., additional partners came into the business and Sexing Technologies started its commercial sexed semen production 10 years ago having Select Sires as its first large commercial customer.”
AT YOUR SERVICE: The Rising Tide of Technology
“Our philosophy is to generate value for the end user.” Explains COCEO Moreno, who is excited about the growing possibilities. “High genetic level bulls are available now. For example the #1 Proven Jersey bull in the world is available in sexed semen. There is every reason for the same to be available in Holsteins. Producers are using sexed semen in both heifers and cows. Sexed semen has become part of modern management strategies on the farm.” Today ST sexed semen is in every day use on thousands of farms (both beef and dairy) in 15 countries around the world confirms Sexing Technologies COCEO. “ It is being produced by more than 25 bull studs. Our production is estimated at 10 million straws annually and over 30 million calves have been born.” The ST co-owner lists five of the many services it provides to breeder customers:
- As a commercial service we are one of the largest exporters of dairy heifers having shipped over 40,000 animals in two years.
- We offer custom semen collection services for both conventional and sexed semen and reproductive services in Embryo Transfer and IVF.
- We process sexed semen in Deer, Elk, Sheep, Goats and soon in Horses and Pigs.
- We service the industry by progeny testing Holstein, Jersey and Brown Swiss bulls.
SEXING TECHNOLOGIES – TEAMWORK and ADDED VALUE for EVERYBODY
Juan speaks with both pride and humility when sharing the growth of Sexing Technologies. “ Today more than 28 families have ownership in Sexing Technologies and the ST family team of over 500 men and women proudly services an industry that feeds the world. We are very thankful to our customers and to the ST team that has provided us with the support to improve the fertility of the product and reduce the cost to the end user.” What he feels in unique about this undertaking is that the entire team has a common goal. “We believe in team effort and being part of an industry that includes, breeders, farmers, bull studs, breed associations, testing services, researchers and others, all working for a common effort of producing in milk, a nutritious quality product, at a fair price that the end consumer can enjoy.”
TECHNOLOGY and the SEX STARVED MARKETPLACE
Potential users of sexing technology are always hungry for advice from those who have experience. Moreno shares his viewpoint. “ The technology has changed dramatically, especially in the last 5 years. A considerable amount of resources and time has gone into developing new generations of equipment, changing procedures, media improvements and user awareness. For example in the last 5 years we have gone through 5 different new models of sperm sorters, each one an improvement on the previous one. Thus production efficiency has improved considerably and the end user has benefitted by seeing a significant price reduction in the cost for their sexed semen since ST introduced it in the market place 10 years ago.”
TECH TACTICS: SELECTIVE SEX AND THE DAIRY FARM
It’s important to use sexed semen as part of an overall management strategy on the dairy farm. It facilitates the allocation of resources by allowing for the selection of higher quality replacement females. It allows you to significantly reduce calving difficulties. It allows for greater income by marketing extra heifers or even introducing cross breeding with beef bulls to produce a product of a higher value in the market and, most importantly, fertility is improving. We are expecting the publication of several articles on large trials ran by independent researchers in different countries corroborating the improved fertility. It’s time to use it for first service in cows.”
“What`s In It For Me?”
With any leading edge tool that requires adapting to change, breeders are concerned about how it can work for them. “That is a tough question.” Asserts Juan Moreno. “Markets are always changing and unpredictable. My crystal ball has failed me many times in the past. However, I do believe that many technologies are coming together at this point” As Moreno looks to the best impact of sexing technologies, he points out 3 specifically.
- Sexed semen can be used to generate female only embryos 99% of buyers don’t really care about having bulls. Only bull studs care about the bulls, most breeders would like to improve their female base. Making embryos with conventional semen makes 50% of the resulting product (bulls) non marketable. Produce for the 99% not the 1%.
- Genomic testing allows targeting embryo production for different niche makers like higher protein, A2 milk, Show, Polled, Color, Milk, Fertility or Net Merit or TPI.
- New Technologies will drive the market to the selection for traits such as fertility, health, feed efficiency, robot adaptability, etc.
DO THE IVF MATH
A full consideration of sexing technologies must not overlook InVitro Feriliaztion. Moreno provides particularly interesting statistics and suggestions for their use.
- 30% of the donors make 80% of the embryos. Don’t keep on trying with low embryo producers.
- make an assessment of the marketability or value within your own herd of the resulting offspring 24 months down the road. Don’t measure today expecting to forecast tomorrow.
- Producing 90%-95% females gives you a much better chance of maximizing your investment . Almost all females from top donors will have a place in your herd. Only 1% or less of the bulls born will ever find a home. Therefore the investment does not compensate the return if you continue producing 50% bulls.
IVF PERSPECTIVE on ELITE
According to Juan Moreno, it’s not the technology that floods the market, it’s the users that choose to produce embryos from a higher number of donors. “I believe the success of IVF provides the opportunity to be more selective as to the genetic quality of donors being used. Technologies such as IVF provide the greatest benefit when used only on elite cattle. Maybe the excitement of Genomics has lead to a definition of “Elite” that is too relaxed.”
THINKING THROUGH IVF PROCESS:
Moreno suggests definite steps in using IVF. “First and foremost the genetic value of the animal today and a year down the road needs to be evaluated. The statistical possibility of that donor generating an offspring that will have market viability 18 to 24 months down the road must also be forecasted. Secondly animals must go through a very thorough schedule of vaccinations and heath testing. Donors are then placed on optimized nutritional regimens based on age and reproductive status. Thirdly reproductive examinations and evaluations on the animal are performed prior to her start in the donor program and they are continued through her life as a donor. The most important fourth step is that the animal must be evaluated after the first three aspirations to determine her ability to produce sufficient number of oocytes and embryos to compensate the investment.” Moreno concludes with a key statistic. “Breeders must always keep in mind that 30% of the donors produce 80% of the embryos.”
ST confirms that IVF results are influenced by breed, age of the donor, reproductive status of the donor, aspiration frequency, nutritional status and hormonal treatments. “We favor a more natural and conservative approach with no hormonal treatments. This approach benefits the long term well being of the animal. In Bos Indiscus breeds like Brahman we average over 7 embryos per aspiration and on Holstein cows 3.3 embryos per aspiration, dropping to 2.2 embryos in heifers. Embryo pregnancies depending on the time of the year range from 43% to 55%.”
IVF LABS and IMPROVEMENTS
ST has been doing IVF for more than 10 years and embryo transfer since the original company was created 20 years ago. ST operates 2 IVF labs in Brazil and 4 in the United States. Two of the US labs are operated as Research and Development laboratories which have been fundamental in testing procedures for sexed semen, leading to a series of improvements in the process that have lead to increased fertility in sexed semen.
CONTINUOUS GENETIC PROGRESS
“We dedicate a considerable amount of funds and resources to Research and Development in Animal Reproduction from heat detection devices, estrus synchronization technology, sexed semen, in vitro fertilization and genetic development programs.” reports Moreno adding that, “ A great deal of emphasis is being dedicated to genetic advancement programs researching new economically significant traits for which prior genetic pressure has not been applied.”
COMBINING TECHNOLOGIES CAN DELIVER EVEN BETTER RESULTS
Once again as breeders, we are being urged to recognized that putting different technology tools together can provide advantages that they couldn’t deliver alone. Moreno says the list is long on the technologies and we should look at in combination. “Some of the technologies have been around for a long time but they will become more relevant in the future because, when paired with new technologies, they lead to greater value. For example: Genomics, Embryo Transfer, IVF, Sexed Semen, Robot Milkers, compliance data systems, Universal Animal Identification, Gene identification , they all have to lead to milk being produced in a more efficient manner so that dairying can be a profitable business for generations to come.”
THE BULLVINE BOTTOM LINE
Technology is not a tool that you can choose to do without. As is always the case with technology driven evolution those who choose to ignore it may be ignoring their own sustainable business. Sexing Technologies is on the leading edge. At the end of the dairy day, those who readily and effectively adapt to the “new world” will succeed and those who don’t won’t!
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