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Chapter 13
Costs of embryo transfer

Costs of embryo transfer vary greatly from country to country, and within countries, depending on a variety of factors. Thus, precise costs mean little in a publication designed for many different countries. However, two generalizations can be made. First, no matter how it is done, embryo transfer programmes are relatively expensive. The costs of the actual embryo transfer services or technology may be quite low; however, labour and feed costs averaged over the number of calves produced are high since normal, healthy cows or heifers are kept out of production in order to be available as recipients. An exception to this is twinning programmes to increase beef production. Also, recipients could come from a source such as a feedlot for fattening heifers for beef. A second generalization is that costs per calf are lowest when success rates are high, because costs are spread over more calves.

Costs will be listed assuming that embryo recovery and transfer services are purchased. In many cases, these services will be provided by a government, a cooperative or the company owning the cattle, when the costs should be determined in a different way; they will still be real costs, nonetheless. Costs are listed in Table 13 and discussed below (comments are numbered to correspond with numbers in the table).

Discussion (of Table 13 on p. 102)

  1. Drugs include FSH or PMSG and prostaglandin and/or progestin.
  2. Many embryo transfer companies charge a set fee per donor with discounts for large numbers of donors.
  3. These costs only apply when embryos are frozen.
  4. Embryo transfer fees are usually charged by the pregnancy, but alternatives are so much per transfer, or a certain amount per hour or day; there are also several other approaches.

Costs of embryo transfer

Actual embryo transfer services

  1. Drugs for superovulation
  2. Labour, equipment and supplies to collect and isolate embryos
  3. Labour, equipment and supplies to freeze and store embryos
  4. Labour, equipment and supplies to transfer embryos
  5. Travel expenses for personnel

Other direct costs

  1. Feed costs while donor is non-pregnant and not producing natural calves
  2. Semen
  3. Health tests and vaccinations for donor and recipients
  4. Cattle transportation
  5. Registration fees
  6. Blood-typing fees
  7. Feed and care of recipients
  8. Decreased productivity of unused and non-pregnant recipients
  9. Costs for synchronizing recipients, including drugs and labour
  10. Costs of facilities and extra labour for embryo transfer
  11. Loss of pregnant recipients' natural calves
  12. Telephone, postage, etc.
  13. Costs of frozen embryos, if purchased

Indirect costs

  1. Interest on investment
  2. Abortion and calf losses (frequently 10 percent or more)

  1. Travel expenses only apply if personnel must travel to the embryo transfer site. Sometimes travel expenses are also incurred to palpate donors when treatments are started and to inseminate donors.
  2. The donor will not be able to have calves by conventional breeding while awaiting superovulation and recovering from it. The cost in feed and lost reproduction should thus be included.
  3. More than one dose of semen is used per superovulated donor; however, the amount of semen per calf produced is actually less with superovulation and embryo transfer than with conventional artificial insemination.
  4. Costs for health tests vary widely.
  5. This is not an expense for many programmes.
  6. Registration fees for pure-bred cattle frequently are higher for embryo transfer calves than naturally born calves.
  7. Many breed societies require blood-typing for the donor, sire and embryo transfer calf.
  8. Recipient feed and care should be included for the length of time animals are kept non-pregnant in order to be available as potential recipients, for recipients that did not become pregnant, and for recipients that did become pregnant, at least through calving, and in most cases until they become pregnant again with their own calf.
  9. Recipients not pregnant, and cattle kept non-pregnant as potential recipients, will have delayed reproduction resulting in lighter calves at weaning time, which is a cost in addition to feed costs in item 12. An example with dairy cows is: if 10 cows were not bred so that they would be available as recipients for one donor, they would average a delay of 45 days in getting pregnant. In the United States, it is frequently calculated that each additional day that a dairy cow remains open costs US$2.50. This would mean an additional cost of US$1 125 over normal costs for those recipients and potential recipients.
  10. Usually many more animals are synchronized than are used as recipients.
  11. Sometimes facilities must be built or expanded for embryo transfer programmes; it also takes labour for sorting, injecting, record-keeping and assisting with the actual embryo transfer.
  12. There will be no profit from the recipients' own calves while they are carrying the embryo transfer calf.
  13. Logistics of embryo transfer frequently entail considerable communication costs.
  14. Frozen embryos will be purchased for some programmes.
  15. Interest on capital, possibly adjusted for inflation, should be considered as a cost.
  16. Abortion and calf losses are no higher with embryo transfer, but because costs per calf are higher than with conventional breeding, losses are higher. Under excellent conditions, one should probably plan for 10 percent losses due to abortion, death of recipient, neonatal death, and losses before calves reach breeding age. Under poor conditions, these losses can exceed 50 percent.

The costs summarized above almost always are hundreds to thousands of dollars per embryo transfer calf over and above conventional costs of cattle breeding. A number of costs have not been included in Table 13. Among these are interest on the donor's value, costs of insurance, or costs of the owner's or manager's time. In some countries, there are tax advantages to investing in these technologies, which may lower costs.

One further problem is chance. For example, an unfavourable (or favourable) sex ratio may result unless large numbers of calves are produced on each farm. Moreover, the most valuable donors may not produce the largest numbers of calves.

Although embryo transfer is generally costly, it is frequently still profitable. Obviously, one must analyse the costs and benefits. When the benefits exceed the costs, this technology should be used by all means. However, if costs are not justified by benefits, embryo transfer programmes should not be initiated in most cases.

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