Superovulation and embryo transfer in dairy cattle: effect of management factors with emphasis on sex-sorted semen

Marja Mikkola

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Multiple ovulation and embryo transfer (MOET) has been established in cattle breeding since the 1970s. It is an efficient means to increase the number of offspring from genetically superior females. Despite nearly 50 years of development, the average number of transferable embryos recovered in a single embryo collection has remained nearly constant at approximately six embryos per donor. Several animal-related, environmental and management factors contribute to the outcome of superovulation and embryo recovery. The most prominent factor affecting the success of superovulation is an animal-related attribute: the ovarian follicular population responsive to exogenous gonadotropin stimulation. Environmental factors, such as heat stress or other external factors causing stress, can compromise the embryo yield after superovulation. However, such factors represent a management challenge. The superovulatory outcome is additionally affected by several factors that can conflict with management decisions, including nutritional management of the donor, gonadotropin treatment protocol and semen and technical performance of donor inseminations. The purpose of the work presented in this thesis was to investigate management factors that affect the efficacy of MOET. First, the effect of nutritional protein in the form of rapeseed meal on superovulation of dairy heifers was studied. One-year old heifers were fed diets formulated to meet energy requirements for 800 g daily gain and crude protein either at 14% or 18%, which was higher than the feeding recommendations and the common practice on farms. There was no effect of the higher protein level on the ovulation rate, total number of embryos recovered or the number of transferable embryos. Feeding an energy-adequate diet containing moderate or high protein with respect to feeding recommendations resulted in comparable embryo yields. The efficacy of two commercial FSH products was compared in a retrospective study on superovulations of heifers and cows on Finnish dairy farms and an embryo collection station. A highly purified porcine FSH with a low LH:FSH ratio, Folltropin, was used for 2592 superovulations, and Pluset, containing equal amounts of LH and FSH, was used for 1398 superovulations. Pluset-treated donors had a higher ovulation rate, yielding 1.1 recovered structures (embryos and ova) more than those receiving Folltropin. However, the difference was characterized by more unfertilized ova (UFO). For transferable embryos, the number, quality and developmental stage were similar for both preparations. Therefore, it can be concluded that the efficacy of the preparations is comparable. The effect of sex-sorted semen on efficacy of MOET was investigated from a dataset of commercial embryo collections and transfers. A total of 443 embryo collections produced with sex-sorted semen and 1528 produced with conventional semen were analyzed. Sex-sorted semen decreased the number of transferable embryos and increased proportions of UFO and degenerated embryos, compared with non-sorted semen. The decrease was more evident in cows than in heifers. The proportion of poor quality embryos was higher and there was a slight delay in the embryo developmental kinetics for sexed embryos. The risk of recovering no transferable embryos was increased when sex-sorted semen was used. Pregnancy rates after transfer of embryos produced with sex-sorted semen were 12% lower than for embryos originating from conventional semen. It can be concluded from these studies on sexed semen that the use of sex-sorted semen is profitable because more female calves can be produced from a donor heifer, wasting less recipient resources. For superovulated cows, equal numbers of female calves can be produced per embryo collection, but the need for only half the number of recipients compared with using conventional semen favors the use of sexed semen when female progeny are desired.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Helsinki
  • Taponen, Juhani, Supervisor
Award date2 Jun 2017
Place of PublicationHelsinki
Print ISBNs978-951-51-3122-5
Electronic ISBNs978-951-51-3123-2
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2017
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)

Fields of Science

  • 413 Veterinary science

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