Leo and Liz’s North American tour (June and July 2014)

We first visited Dr Marty Darrow who has been collecting the embryos that we have imported. Marty’s main work is in reproduction and embryo work primarily in the dairy industry in the Fraser Valley in British Columbia. He made a couple of interesting comments:

In the dairy industry the advent of sexed semen (90% of good dairy farmers in the Fraser Valley are using sexed semen) and genomics with the 12K SNP chips (at $45) is having a major effect on the rate of genetic change. It is new technology and the dairy industry is putting it in place now. Marty has an important role in getting farmers to understand how best to utilise the opportunities that knowing the true genetic potential of a calf at birth or soon after gives. Marty has also become very interested in the role of minerals in getting cows in calf and holding pregnancies. He pointed out that the current standards for mineral nutrition are probably too low because they are based on the dairy cow performance of 30 years ago. The current dairy cattle have much higher milk production and are much more metabolically active with increased liver activity and more removal of oestrogen, indicating that small amounts of exogenous oestrogen may be helpful for fertility, hence CIDRs + E often seem better than the GnRH based synchrony programs now needed in our Dairy Industry. Marty’s thoughts might or might not be applicable to our beef twinner operations but are worth consideration.

We then visited the Joiner family at their ranch in the mountainous Cariboo region of British Columbia, about 5 -6 hours inland from Vancouver. The ranch has about 16,000 acres of deeded land (including ~500 acres of hayfields low down next to the river) and about 60,000 acres of crown lease mountain forest land and they run a total of about 500 breeding cows. This is a very difficult environment where the cattle have to come out of the forest in the winter because of the cold and snow. Most of the deeded land is not highly productive, again due mainly to the severe winters. Al Joiner is one of the main commercial cattlemen developing the USMARC twinner line of cattle. He has been purchasing some very high grade twinner cows and bulls from Nebraska  for ~15 years and he has stayed closely in touch with Gordon Hays, the cattle production supervisor at USMARC to help his selection. About 120 of his cattle are high grade twinners and he had about 30 sets of twins this year. Neonatal calf mortality seems to be fairly high because of the extreme climate and many of the twins are fostered onto cows which have lost single calves. Al has been using some red Angus and Simmental bulls to try and make the cattle more commercially acceptable (coat colour is important to the Alberta feedlot buyers too!). He is developing a nice looking line of well muscled, structurally sound with good udders, polled red cattle and is intending to increase the twinning blood content of the herd. He has quite a few pure twinner bulls in reserve to do this.

We have agreed to purchase some more embryos from him, including a couple from a very high grade cow that we encouraged him to buy.

Our final visit relating to twinners was with Dr Brian Kirkpatrick from the University of Wisconsin. Brian collaborated with Chris Morris and I in the ASAP paper in 2008. Brian’s family ran twinners for a while, but the land became too valuable for cattle grazing. Brian’s speciality is genetics and genomics. Recently, he is well on the way to isolating a major twinning gene in cattle originating in Chris Morris’s Treble/Trio cattle. Unfortunately this gene seems to raise ovulation rate too  much to be commercially useful.