Reproductive technologies have taken some major strides forward in Ontario’s growing goat sector. This is as a result of two research projects undertaken by Ontario Goat – one looking at trans-cervical embryo transfer and one evaluating heat synchronization with timed artificial insemination (AI) protocols. As well, a workshop series for producers on reproduction was held last fall and a reproductive management resource manual has been developed for use on-farm.
In the spring of 2013, two healthy kids were born on an Ontario goat farm from fertilized goat embryos that were collected trans-cervically – without the use of surgical intervention. Two Boer bucks were carried successfully to term by a Nubian doe at Sugarfield Farms near Tavistock, owned by Tobin and Erin Schlegel.
Veterinarian Dr. Kelly Barratt and her team from Heartland Veterinary Services in Listowel collected seven embryos from three different donors last fall and implanted five of them into recipient does. The successful live birth marks the first time that trans-cervical embryo transfer has been used in goats in Ontario.
“This is a real milestone for Ontario Goat and goat genetics and it’s an exciting time for the industry,” says Dr. Barratt. “There’s a wealth of opportunity in developing herds and the more we learn about goat genetics and herd improvement, the more this technology will become useful.”
Traditional goat embryo transfer technology is expensive as it involves both anesthesia and surgery techniques that can leave adhesions and reduce a doe’s reproductive life. The non-surgical procedure is similar to one used in cattle, letting producers increase the number of offspring a doe can produce in a given year and over her reproductive lifetime.
Resulting offspring can carry superior genetic traits, such as increased weight gain, improved carcass merit and quality, and increased milk production. This is because the technology gives producers the ability to transplant an embryo of superior genetic quality into a doe with lesser genetic traits. As well, using embryos instead of live animals in genetic improvement strengthens on-farm biosecurity by reducing the risk of direct disease transmission between herds.
Ontario Goat worked with Dr. Marcelo Roncoletta and Dr. Erica Morani of Top in Life Biotechnologies, Brazilian experts in trans-cervical embryo collection and transfer to provide protocols for on-farm trials in Ontario and to train Dr. Barratt, with the goal of improving Canadian goat genetics and starting to build domestic and international markets for goat embryos. Two Ontario goat herds, one meat and one dairy, participated in the embryo transfer project.
“The new technology makes embryo transfer more of a viable option for producers now, as it is less expensive and carries a lower level of risk,” she says. “The project has opened up doors to producers who might not previously have been interested in genetics and embryo transfer. It would be really exciting if it would take off.”
As part of Ontario Goat’s second project, researchers evaluated how well two different heat synchronizing protocols – CIDR Synch and OV Synch – performed in two Ontario goat herds. Being able to effectively synchronize heats allows goat producers to improve their herd genetics more quickly and manage groups of does better for both breeding and kidding.
The breeding season for goats in the northern hemisphere runs from September to January, during which they cycle every 18 – 22 days and respond well to hormone interventions to bring on heat. Their “off-season” is from February to June, and July to September is considered a transition period.
During those times of the year, it is challenging for producers to manage does’ cycles and the animals often have reduced fertility. In an attempt to address this, Ontario Goat trialed the two protocols to determine how well they performed in Ontario goat herds during the transition period.
Thirty-four meat goats and 60 dairy goats were bred. Three meat does were confirmed pregnant in the CIDR Synch group and only one was confirmed in the OV Synch group, resulting in conception rates of 17.6 per cent and 5.9 per cent respectively. The dairy goats showed an overall conception rate of 10.5 per cent with three does out of 29 bred confirmed pregnant in the CIDR Synch Group and three out of 28 bred in the OV Synch Group.
Barratt stresses that does in the trial became pregnant through strictly timed AI breedings that fell outside of the natural breeding season, so producers should not avoid using AI in a goat herd purely on the basis of the project’s results.
“One of the challenges of reproductive technology in goats is the seasonality of their reproductive cycle, which makes things difficult when we try to manipulate it,” she says.
Matt Huber milks 400 to 500 Saanen goats on his farm between Listowel and Palmerston and participated in both reproductive projects. His results were mixed: a 10 per cent pregnancy rate on 60 synchronized and artificially inseminated does on the AI trial and no viable embryos out of four donor does during the trans-cervical transfer. But he’s committed to continuing, especially with the embryo transfer technology.
“We’ve done surgical embryo transfer for a number of years with some success, so the non-surgical is definitely something we want to do more of,” he says. “With AI, we just need practice to get better at it. We’ll be trying the embryo transfer without surgery again this fall, but using a protocol we had luck with on the surgical side. These are good programs to move ahead with genetics and in time, we can get them working for goats.”
Barratt, too, is optimistic about the future of reproductive technologies in the goat industry and she’s keen to help train other veterinarians who have an interest in this field.
“Only a couple of vets in Ontario know how to perform this procedure, so the logical next step would be train other vets who are interested,” she says. “It’s relatively straightforward and it’s the demand for the technology that will drive this. We hope Ontario Goat’s work on genetic improvement will encourage producer interest.”
For more information about either research project or to obtain a copy of the reproductive manual, please contact Ontario Goat at 1-866-311-6422 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article written by Lilian Schaer for Ontario Goat.