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Embryo Transfers Give Deer Breeding Programme Genetic Boost

Embryo Transfers Give Deer Breeding Programme Genetic Boost

New Zealand’s largest red meat genetics company is stepping up its Red Deer breeding programme by carrying out embryo transfers for the first time.

Focus Genetics Red Deer programme manager, Dr. Richard Lee says embryo transfer produces a rapid genetic boost.

“This boost is created by using known superior male and female genetics and the multiplication of greater numbers of offspring than natural mating.”

He said the programme involved a lot of work to select the best hinds and source the best stags available in New Zealand.

“Out of 2000 hinds, 13 were selected. These superior hinds were then injected every 12 hours, over a critical 3 day period, immediately before artificial insemination, so they super ovulated.”

The results exceeded all expectation as 127 transferable embryos were produced. 102 embryos were transferred and the other 25 were frozen.

“This is really exciting for us because it’s a first and to get outstanding results in the early stages is really rewarding. It is a real opportunity for the industry.”

Focus Genetics used its top sires as well as Deer Improvement Ltd genetics to ensure the best stags in the country were being used for the transfers.

“We were able to use semen from Deer Improvement’s superior stags which is fantastic for farmers because this association means they are getting superior genetic gain by getting the best genetic traits from both companies,” said Dr Lee.

Focus Genetic’s Red Deer breeding programme is run on Landcorp’s Stuart Farm near Te Anau and general manager Luke Wright is very excited about the embryo transfer programme.

“The ET programme is new for us and is going to help us drive production for farmers all around New Zealand because we’re using superior venison producing stags. We aim to have these superior stag genetics available for the industry in future years.”

Focus Genetics Red Deer maternal traits breeding programme focuses on venison quality.

“This is a real point of difference because we are producing animals with high growth rates. The ET programme will help us improve carcass weights and growth rates which will shorten the time to deliver those carcass weights.”

‘Selection is for traits that highlight growth, early fawning, medium hind size, and higher yields from the major primal regions. Velvet production is not a major focus of our objective’

Mr Wright says there is significant economic advantage in producing fast growing animals with better meat to bone ratio.

Stuart Farm’s deer operation includes a 600-hind Red stud herd and a commercial herd of 3800 Red hinds

As well as the embryo transfer programme Stuart Farm was the first to CT scan deer to improve the genetics and this is a major point of difference for Focus Genetics.

“This gives us the ability to look inside at their carcass/meat to bone distribution via Computed Tomography (CT scanning) in live animals and identify key traits without having to slaughter them.”

International embryo transfer expert, Dr. Mike Bringans travelled from Canada to help Focus Genetics carry out the operations at Stuart Farm.

“For the last year I have been doing deer embryo work in China, Spain, USA, Canada and Mexico. The results from this programme were unbelievable. To get over 10 good quality embryos per donor exceeded our expectations.

Dr Bringans says New Zealand has always been the leader in deer reproductive techniques and management.

“Embryo transfer is the most powerful tool to advance genetics as long as the best females have been identified correctly. With venison traits being selected a significant genetic jump can be achieved,” says Dr Bringans.

Mr Wright says it’s very important to have good on farm management practices for the programme to be successful.

“We are putting a lot of work into these hinds making sure they are well fed and well managed to ensure they each put a fawn on the ground.”


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