Interested in learning more about the current Beef x Dairy trend? Join the Trans Ova team as they discuss Trans Ova’s beef embryo program. Emma Vickland serves as the IVF Lab Coordinator at our Kansas location. Dakota Moyers is our Southern Regional Business Manager. Jacob DeKruyf serves as the Northwest Regional Business Manager.
How is Trans Ova involved in Beef on Dairy?
Jacob: We’ve been building this program for quite a while now. We’re starting to see it really take off in the industry. The main goal is to try to get a better, more efficient product into the dairy industry. It gives both the beef and dairy industries an opportunity to get a steady stream of great animals coming out year-round – so you’re not relying on so much of a seasonal pattern.
It’s allowing the dairy side to have more valuable animals coming out. You’re getting animals that will finish quicker. They’re going to be more efficient in their feed. They’re going to be just all around sustainable and efficient. The whole goal of Beef on Dairy is to get better animals out of dairy cows.
We’re starting to see a lot of the processors reach out to us about where they can find and make these animals, so it’s an exciting time.
Where do the embryos in Trans Ova’s Beef on Dairy program come from?
Emma: Right now, we’re working with a beef processing plant here in Kansas. They have a unique program where they kill only black hided cattle. They also have certain days, a program where they’re NHTC – all natural. These aged heifers have not seen hormone suppression in the feed lot or wherever they were developed, so that really helps from an ovary quality development standpoint.
We work with the plant and whenever they have these heifers coming through, we collect the ovaries and hopefully get them aspirated just like we would within a live cow. However, for these collections the cow is already deceased, so we try to collect and aspirate within four hours of slaughter. We found this keeps them the highest quality and the most viable to go on and make an embryo. So, we pick up the ovaries from the plant, then take them back to our lab aspirate them.
From there, it’s a simple process: just like we would with a live cow to search for the oocytes. It’s just on a larger scale than aspirating individual cows at a time. Then we ship the oocytes to one of the IVF labs.
What semen does Trans Ova use in their Beef on Dairy program?
Emma: It depends on the client. If you have a client that wants a specific bull, you can go ahead and use that. We’ve been using mostly Wagyu sired, but there have been a few projects where they’ve used Herford. As we grow, I think there’ll be clients that want to use different breeds as well.
What trends do you see in the beef industry right now? Why is there a need for these types of embryos?
Dakota: Traditionally cattle have been sourced through your local sale barn or through video auctions, and those cattle have been feeder weight. There’s still a market for those cattle, but recently with droughts and other factors, cow numbers have been dropping in feed yards and processors are getting a little bit more concerned about sourcing cattle. What makes this program so unique is the fact that we’re ultimately tied to the end user, and they’re investing in those cattle early on – that’s how a feed yard is going to make money and how processors can fill their orders.
The earlier they can get those cattle procured and in their system, it’ll make their programs just a little bit more sustainable long term. Hopefully we get some moisture and cow numbers bounce back, but the system works good for the dairy, the feed yards and the processors – so that’s the trend we’re seeing right now. What kind of makes these programs unique is we’re building these cattle for the processor. They’re willing to make the financial investment to own these cattle quite a bit longer than what they traditionally had in the past.
What is the value of cattle coming from the Beef on Dairy program? What are the benefits?
Dakota: Beef on Dairy is not something that’s new within the industry. Dairy cattle have been bred to beef semen of different breeds for a long time. Without a doubt those values will still be there. We’re by no means creating a new stream of cattle or anything, we’re just giving processors a more consistent product.
We’re using black-hided cattle from the processer in Kansas, and those cattle performed to a 40-50% prime or upper choice grades. Then we’re using sires that will push those boundaries from a carcass merit. Ultimately, we’re making a premium product in a very efficient, sustainable manner that we haven’t in the past. It will allow us to provide a more high-end product on a more consistent basis.
Traditionally the cattle feeding world, you play in two seasons – fall and spring calving. With a dairy, those calves are born every single day. It’s unbelievably valuable to have a consistent flow of high-end, quality cattle flowing through a processor on a very regular basis.
What’s the value to the dairy? There’s a substantial price difference. Early on these Beef on Dairy calves were meant to minimize the number of extra heifers by using beef semen. Now, the Beef on Dairy markets are just blown up. It’s a true second source of income for a dairy. If we can capitalize on a more profitable kind of cattle for a dairy and allow them to increase their bottom line, that’s ultimately what Trans Ova is built around – making our customers successful and profitable. That’s the goal of this, to help them create just that, a more valuable product.
Jacob: The buzz words around the whole ag industry are “sustainability, efficiency, environmental”. This is just adding to it. Nothing on a dairy goes to waste whatsoever – the milk is main source, but the manure turns to fertilizer. Now, we are giving them a product that is not looked at as just another pregnancy to get the milk. It’s another source of income; it’s not a waste product, it’s a byproduct of what we’re doing in this industry. It’s just making that dairy more efficient while trying to provide food for people.
Ag gets such a bad name for what we do from people that don’t understand it. This is just another opportunity to say, “Hey, we’re trying to do as much as we can to feed the world with as little as we have.” There’s really a cool sustainability stance to look at it too, that I think it gets overlooked.
What is the unique aspect of Trans Ova beef embryos?
Dakota: The most unique facet is the dam source of what we’re using for these terminal embryos – they are black hide predominantly polled females that come from an NHTC program. We’re getting to see how those cattle perform in a feed yard setting and from a processing standpoint. Without knowing the exact genetics, we at least have some predictability of those cattle from the dam side that I think offer quite a bit of value in this program that make them unique and sets them apart a little bit.
Another thing, we’re not just making a terminal embryo to make sell to a dairy. We’re not taking a product to a dairy unless we have the buyer, or the processor. What makes us so different is we’ve basically taken all the legwork out of it for everyone, and we’ve started from the back. It’s one less thing they have to worry about.
Jacob: These terminal embryos, we’re pulling them from one of the leaders in the industry, I would say. They do a phenomenal job. The product’s amazing. We’ve had a couple taste tests, and you can’t knock it one bit. It was delicious. So, we’re just working with a very well recognized source that’s providing us with good genetics going forward. It’s exciting to know that we’re working with some of the top cattle in the industry to set that standard. It’s nice to know what you’re getting out of what you’re putting in your cow.
That’s a huge thing for dairies too. They have concerns that we want to tackle on our end – making sure everything we’re using, from the bull to the female genetics, will fit that cow so we’re not causing any issues with your operation. I think that’s what is really setting us apart right now, is making sure we’re focused on the dairy.
Is there a difference in quality of embryos made from ovaries aspirated outside the cow?
Emma: Yes and no. When you aspirate a cow, typically we take all those oocytes, unless they’re dead, and we put them into culture and hope for the best. The embryo development rates will vary just depending on different factors: breed, age, timing or cycle. The terminal ovaries were not suppressed hormonally. They will be in all different stages of her cycle, so you get such a wider range. With that, we’re able to look at a much higher volume of oocytes, but we do have to look at them visually to see what’s of quality and what is not.
It also depends on how many you have per day. Some days you’re going to have a lot more heifers coming through the plant. Other days will be a little sparser. So, you do have to make some decisions about the quality of the oocytes you put into culture. We do our very best to try to put only the best quality.
What criteria in a dairy do you look for? Is there a preferred dairy cow to use for beef embryos?
Dakota: Any dairy cow can use them without a doubt. But I would say if we’re going to talk about the best dairy cow right now, I think the jerseys or even crossbred cows have been probably our targets of where we want to start. From a beef perspective, as we start crossing those and trying to make a true half-blood out of a jersey cow, there becomes a bigger gap in efficiencies and growth rates from a Jersey cross bread to even a Holstein cross bread. When we can throw this beef embryo in and really maximize true efficiencies and true average daily gain in performance, the Jersey and the cross bred cow have been our primary targets. That doesn’t mean that we’re not pulling in every driveway and talking to every dairy about it, because I think it fits everywhere. I would just say that’s probably the primary cow we focused on today.
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