Embryo transfer aims for top bloodlines and performance
Peel Forest Estate’s embryo-transfer programme is part of its pursuit to produce high-performance deer for the venison, velvet and trophy deer markets.
By using the latest breeding technology and cross-herd, genetic analysis to maximise genetic gain, the South Canterbury estate continues to develop bloodlines with proven performance and heritability, says studmaster Steve Blanchard Since the estate was established 30 years ago, owner Graham Carr has invested heavily in genetics from around the world.
This has established Peel Forestt as an important source of world-class, reddeer genetics… the largest source in New Zealand.
The estate runs 9500 fully recorded deer on 3000 hectares, including a 1250ha hill block.
The well-established industry practice of multiple ovulation (through the use of a reproductive hormone) and embryo transfer (MOET) is used to maximise the numbers of offspring from Peel Forest Estate’s genetically elite hinds and stags.
Embryo transfers are done each year in early April, in addition to artificial insemination across 500 hinds in mid-March.
This year 32 elite hinds were in the programme, which was done over two days.
Following insemination using the best available sires, the multiple embryos are flushed (extracted) surgically from the hinds and implanted laparoscopically into lower-performing surrogates.
This means it is possible for more than 10 elite fawns to be born from the embryos of one elite hind. Steve Blanchard says hinds inseminated are the cream of the herd.
“They are the top of the top. They are the hinds that have really had the best performance, and we need as many daughters out of those hinds as we can.”
Hinds are selected about six months before the transfers are done and these become part of a small herd.
“If you are going to have a successful embryotransfer programme, you really need to have the hinds socialised with the group they’re going to be in during the procedure,” says Steve.
“They’re quite a temperamental animal and they need to have a hierarchy within their group and be very settled if you’re going to have a successful programme.”
There is little risk of in-breeding because of the depth of Peel Forest Estate’s gene pool, which is a reflection of the “huge” national gene pool, he says.
DeerSelect can also produce an in-breeding report that provides data on common ancestors, and can advise not to breed particular hinds and sires together.
Peel Forest Estate has been running a MOET programme for more than two decades. Along with the genetic gains made in the estate’s herd, the results in the national herd speak for themselves, Steve says.
“It has been tremendous. Without embryo transfers, the (national) herd would not be where it is today. The genetic improvement that’s been made is tremendous.
“At Peel Forest, we are looking to multiply the very successful females because they are really the backbone of any breeding programme.”
This has had the effect of lifting the performance average of the estate’s entire herd 10-fold, he says. Outside of the world of biology, a more fundamental part of the business – weighing stock – has also had a significant effect.
“We were one of the first in the industry to start putting EID (electronic identification) tags in our whole herd. Because we were a stud, we thought it was a magnificent tool to be able to speed up our day-to-day work because we do a lot of weighing and measuring.”
Weighing deer, combined with the traceability of the electronic tags to individual hinds or sires, enables decisions to be made quickly regarding their performance.
A fire which destroyed the estate’s deer shed in 2012 resulted in the loss of 12 months of data, but was seen as an opportunity to go to the next step and introduce new weighing systems.
Part of the new deer shed was specifically designed around weighing and drafting equipment, with the weighing equipment previously used replaced by Gallagher systems.
“They put a stud programme on their weigh system and we could put all the previous information we had on that system,” says Steve.
“We could extract it in many different ways, do reports on specific traits, export it to Excel, break it down. It allows you to make more accurate calls on culling and selecting animals. “It’s a very powerful tool to help you make the correct decisions.” He says Peel Forest Estate held two very successful sales during the past season with strong demand and good prices paid.
The estate had a full clearance of its line of Forrester maternal sires, which have been bred to produce an “ideal” breeding hind of 105-115 kilograms liveweight, robust constitution, high fertility, solid conformation, and Johne’s disease resilience. with the bonus of great growth for English-base deer.
“We are really chuffed with how they are performing. It’s a really exciting part of the stud for us.”