Sunday, July 1, 2012

Show time!

Greetings from Elkhorn Creek Ranch near the epicenter of the Bakken oil formation.

June 23rd was our big day!  Embryo Transfer (ET) day.

Embryo transfer is a technology that is used both in the production of high quality seedstock (livestock as well as recreation and companion species) in the animal world and also in human society.  Although the reasons are different, it is safe to say the technology is nearly the same between all species (including humans).

First, the WHY:
We raise bulls and heifers for commercial cattlemen.  We want to be using as much 'elite' genetics as possible that is highly predictable and will provide the most amount of financial success for our commercial customers.  Examples - calf easy, are good mothers (take good care of their calves so preditors don't get them and give them enough nutrient dense milk so they grow fast and are healthy and wean heavy in the fall), are efficient (use less feed and resources to generate more pounds of beef), have longevity (so they stay in the our customers' herds for more years and raise a good calf each year).... 

Second, the HOW:
The first thing is to determine the elite genetics.  Due to the fact that we register almost all of our eligible calves (where both the sire (father) and dam (mother) are reistered (parentage traced)) and we report the annual production of all of our calves to the American Angus Association (AAA) every year, we have many statistical tools / data to help us determine our strongest cows (the ones that will raise calves that will make our customers profitable) in the herd.  These cows are our 'highest honors honor roll students' or our 'Mother of the Year' cows.  These cows are known as our 'donor' cows.

Through technology, we are able to allow these donor cows to have multiple calves in each calf crop.  They go through the same process a human would that either can not conceive naturally or wants multiples... like Octa-Mom.  Only, unlike Octa-mom's doctor, Dr. Michael removes ALL the embryos from each donor cow and transfers them into recipient cows.  We select five donor cows each year, which have earned this elite status.

It is very technical and very scheduled and timed out, and on the day that these embryos are ready to be moved from the donor cows into a recipient mothers (typically our commercial / nonregistered cows), the doctors, technicians and lab equipment show up and set up.

Dr. Michael (Doctor of Reproductive Physiology) and Dr. Bruce (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) bringing expertise and technology to the ranch to continue to improve our cow herd.  This has both a trickle down effect on our customers' success and profitablity and also an impact on the US Beef industry, which is known as the world's source of the safest, most efficiently produced and highest quality Zinc, Iron and Protein available. 

Dr. Bruce using his electronic tablet to capture images of the embryos under the microscope from one of the five donor cows which will be transferred shortly to the recipient mothers after being graded and aged.

The 10 little embryos from one of the five donor cows which Dr. Michael transferred into our commercial recipient cows.  Using eight years (the number of years that we have used ET on our ranch) of statical data, we can expect to have seven of these little eight celled embryos become calves. 

The record keeping system to track each embryo which is transfered until they are born next spring at which time they are tagged for individual identification.

Through ET, we are able to focus on our best cows and provide multiple full brothers each year out of them in our private treaty bull offering to our commercial customers.  This allows them to breed all of their cows to full brothers adding uniformity to their calf crops.  Uniformity typically adds value to the feed lots that purchase their calves which continues to affect each part of the beef industry until we get to the end customer - MOM (the household's domestic manager).  When she goes to the grocery store to select tenderloins for grilling for her family and the neighbor's family on a Friday evening gathering, this uniformity in genetic selection promotes the likelihood that each steak will be more uniform in size and similar in eating quality (tenderness, juiciness and flavor).

So there you have it!  That is why we (and so many other US ranchers) work so hard the month of June with our AI and ET programs - the tools we use to stay on the cutting edge of 'beef genetics'.

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