A game-changing breeding method that keeps cows in the production cycle and requires no hormones is being picked up by major cattle operators. In-vitro fertilisation, or IVF, has been used extensively in the United States throughout the past decade. There were companies offering IVF in Australia but the industry was given a significant boost when global genetics company Vytelle opened a commercial laboratory in Brisbane in July. Vytelle's Andrew Donoghue, regional director for Australia and New Zealand, said demand had been strong with the bulk of the interest coming from beef and dairy operators in NSW and Victoria. Unlike conventional embryo flushing, IVF does not use hormones, which is a big attraction for producers. The process was fairly simple at on-farm level, Mr Donoghue said. "Basically you only have to bring your donor cows to the yards," he said. The processing of aspirating unfertilised eggs, or oocytes, from the ovaries of donor cows was carried out by a technician with specialised equipment. Under a microscope the oocytes were then cleaned, prepared and put in developing fluid, or media, while on site. "Our challenge is then we have to get those oocytes back to the lab within 24 hours of being aspirated from the donor," Mr Donoghue said. "We make sure we can get back to Brisbane that night from wherever we're doing it, and then the next day is what we would call 'day zero' and that's when we do the IVF in the lab. "We have semen from the client and the oocytes from the cow, and in the lab and in the dish we do the IVF process and fertilise the embryos. "The embryos are kept in incubators from the time they leave the donor cow, so they spend seven or eight days in incubators going through different maintenance procedures." On days six to eight the embryos were frozen down and ready for transfer back on farm to recipients. For fresh embryos, this occurred on day six. There were other companies that offered IVF services, but Vytelle's main point of difference was that it developed its own media for embryo development in-house which was part of its global standardised program, he said. "The other thing is we offer what we call a direct-transfer frozen embryo back, which is a far simpler frozen embryo to deal with," he said. "A lot of other companies offer what we call a vintrified embryo back, which takes a lot more work for transferring. "We feel that our frozen performance around the globe, with our DT embryos, will be a key point of difference in the Australian marketplace." He expected Australian demand to keep rising and follow the trends in other nations. The technology began in South America about 20 years ago and became more popular than embryo flushing, he said. "About 10 years ago the same thing happened in the US, that embryos made using IVF exceeded embryo flushing, and that gap's continued to widen in the last 10 years." The company could get through 45 donors in a day on farm but usually averaged about 30 depending on the facilities, he said. Producers needed at least 25 donors for Vytelle to travel, but the company also had partnered sites in Tamworth, Bathurst and Oakey, Qld, where smaller operators could bring their donors for the day to make up numbers. Mr Donoghue said there was currently one team and there were plans to grow. Their services were split between two thirds beef and one third dairy, but that was purely driven by accessibility, he said. He expected more producers would get on board once they knew it worked. "Traditionally IVF - I'm talking 10, 20 years ago - struggled for reliability of results," he said. "Once you get some reliable results with IVF and you know what you're going to get, that's when people start to flock to it." Success rates depended on how robust the embryos were and the management of recipient cows, he said. Kristen Fredericksen, of Dalwhinnie Angus, Byng, also works as a large animal vet. The stud was trialling IVF for the first time this season with two 12-month-old heifers and four cows, some of which had been conventionally flushed before. "One of them we haven't been able to get back in calf as a result of the conventional stuff messing her up, so we'll try a different avenue for her and she can run with the bull the entire time and just keep pulling her in for the IVF," she said. Dr Fredericksen said the stud wanted to be on the front foot when it came to trying new technologies. Her partner, Ed Horton, worked for Vytelle and had spent time overseas working in the IVF field. "We had the opportunity to give it a go while it's new and while there's different technologies coming out with it," she said. "The turning over of the results is getting better and better now. How many embryos they can make, and more importantly how many pregnancies keep from those embryos. "Your conception rates are so much better with the different medias that they're growing these embryos on nowadays. It's really cool." Keeping cows in the production cycle was one of the main benefits of using IVF compared to conventional embryo flushing, she said. Eligible donors included heifers from six months old, cows 15 days after calving and animals up to 100 days pregnant. "Conventional flushing you had to wait two months after they'd calved before you could flush them, and you can't flush them while they're pregnant," she said. "Even if you do one flush, they're going to miss the next AI join, so that pushes them back. You do two or three flushes and that's six months out of producing the calf." The lack of hormones was another benefit, she said, as cows were not required to be run through the yards multiple times to be needled. "You've got all of that labour that's just non-existent because they don't need the hormones," she said. "You can just pull them out of the paddock on IVF day and through they come. "Those benefits are really why we wanted to give it a go and we're keen to see how the embryos go." There were other hidden bonuses too, she said, such as using multiple bulls provided there were enough oocytes. "They can split them all up - they just have to put them in different dishes and put the different semen in each one," she said. Dalwhinnie had a good records of conception rates through different seasons and Dr Fredericksen said she was looking forward to comparing the IVF results.