The cattle IVF team at Paragon vets has created a record number of embryos from a single collection from one cow.

Forty-five top-grade embryos were produced from the Limousin, fertilised by three different leading sires.

It is a record number for the Paragon Advanced Breeding team which has been at the forefront of the development of cattle IVF in this country. It may also be a UK record.

The microscopic one-week-old embryos have been frozen for future use, either implanted into recipient cows in the farmer’s own herd, or to be sold on.

Dan Griffiths, a vet in Paragon Veterinary Group’s advanced breeding team, said: “It smashes our previous record which was 30 embryos from a single collection. We would be very surprised if anyone has beaten it in the UK.

Dan Griffiths, veterinary surgeon, at Paragon Vets

“The farmer has used three quality bulls on one of his best animals and now he’s got the chance of getting six, seven or eight calves from each mating – that’s a tremendous number and very quickly you can see how it is possible to advance a herd.”

Cattle advanced breeding technology attracted national attention this month when a Limousin heifer Wilodge Posh Spice sold at H&H Borderway mart in Carlisle for a record £262,000, making her future embryos worth several thousand pounds each. She was herself bought as an embryo originally.

Rob Simmons, Paragon’s advanced breeding lead vet, carried out the collection from the cow, which is owned by a farmer in west Cumbria.

He says the team’s skill and knowledge is crucial to its latest success. 

Rob Simmons, lead vet, advanced breeding

“I think our team has got great attention to detail and we have got a lot of experience and understanding about the work we are doing,” said Rob.

“It might well be a UK record, though we can’t know for certain. There are a couple of other organisations doing IVF in the UK, but results are not published. If this is not the record it will certainly be very close.”

Paragon Veterinary Group, which has its Advanced Breeding facility at Newbiggin near Penrith, was one of the first in the UK to work on developing cattle IVF under managing director David Black, and was involved in early research. 

Rob says: “Last year our average embryo production was 5.8 per collection. 

“When Dan and I started in 2016 we were averaging just below two.  So we have been making sustained improvements.

“As we have improved the work we do, clients have gained more confidence as well.  At the start we tended to get problem breeder animals, but now we are getting more people using IVF as the first line embryo production method, as a way to improve their herds.”

Cows receive low levels of follicle-stimulating hormone, before the oocytes – or early stage eggs – are collected with a needle inserted into each follicle under epidural anaesthetic. Paragon has a specially designed collection building at Newbiggin which is kept hot to maximise results, as well as a similar collection facility at Blencogo where this Limousin was treated. 

The oocytes are then transferred to Paragon’s high-tech lab at Newbiggin where they are matured and then fertilised in vitro. They are then grown or “cultured” for a week in the laboratory before being either frozen or implanted fresh into recipient cows.

Paragon’s laboratory manager Emily Arter and lab technician Imogen Threlfall carry out the laboratory phases of the process. 

Emily Arter, IVF lab manager, and (right) Imogen Threlfall, lab assistant, in the laboratory at Paragon Vets

Imogen, 21, said: “Because we used semen from three bulls, the embryos were in three dishes of 17, 14 and 14.

“It was afterwards that we realised how great it was. To get 14 or 17 would be amazing before you consider they are all from the same cow. 

“It’s really exciting to be working on embryology with Paragon, they are leaders in the field.”

Paragon’s Advanced Breeding team was already celebrating after starting the new year with record collections of eggs from some other cows. 

“In our first collection of this year I managed to get 84 oocytes from a donor and at our third collection Rob got 113,” said Dan.

“Before 2021 our record number of oocytes from a collection was 69, so we have significantly lifted the bar.”

Paragon launched a commercial IVF service in 2017 and now collects from an average of six to eight cows a week, which come from around the country.  

It also has links with other veterinary teams in Northern Ireland, the south west and Yorkshire, which collect and send oocytes to the Newbiggin centre for fertilisation.