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Alpaca reproduction is a complicated business. Unlike other farm animal species, the use of artificial insemination and other assisted reproductive techniques poses a great challenge for veterinarians working with these animals And the gestation period is a lengthy 11 months. How then, can a breeder reproduce multiple crias from the most valuable animals in a relatively short period? Through embryo transfer, a technique now being perfected by the reproduction specialists at The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center.
Drs. Marco da Silva and Carlos Pinto, both faculty in the Theriogenology and Reproductive Medicine service, have been working during the past two years to validate several reproductive procedures for camelids. The Reproductive Medicine Service also includes resident Dr. Elizabeth “Betsy” Coffman, who received her DVM from the University of Tennessee, and embryologist Chelsey Messerschmidt, research assistant and clinical technical support. In addition, Dr. Jeff Lakritz, Vernon Tharp Professor of Farm Animal Medicine, and service head in the Veterinary Medical Center, is known as by the alpaca industry for his expertise in camelid medicine.
While embryo transfer procedures have been developed for alpacas elsewhere, Drs. Da Silva’s and Pinto’s creative approach was designed to validate a non-surgical procedure that does not require manipulation of the reproductive tract per rectum. “We are really pleased with the success of this embryo transfer,” said Dr. Marco da Silva, assistant professor. An embryo transfer is the process of harvesting fertilized eggs from a high-value female camelid, and transferring the embryo into a reproductively sound and less valuable surrogate female for gestation, birth, and care. Typically, the embryos can be collected in a non-surgical process during which the female is only lightly sedated, about a week after breeding. This allows the high-value camelids to be bred again in a few weeks. This process could have an impact on the genetic improvement of an entire herd.
“This is our first successful transfer,” said Dr. da Silva. “We received the results of a DNA test this week that proved the birth was the result of the transfer. We look forward to repeating this success in the near future with a client-owned camelid. I would also like to publically thank Dr. Jeff Lakritz for his support of this project."