If you are in the beef cattle business, getting a live calf from every pregnancy is critical to your success. But every cow does not deliver a live calf. Dr. Ky Pohler, BS, MS, Ph.D., with Texas A&M AgriLife Research says reproductive inefficiencies cost the beef business billions of dollars per year. This is mostly due to embryonic mortality and pregnancy loss.
The AgriLife research group is trying to figure out what percentage of loss is from the animal and how much is genetic. When a cow loses a pregnancy, she may not breed back that year, so that is two years with no calf. To help find causes of calf loss and methods to decrease it, Texas A&M has received a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture. The goal of this study is to provide foundational information on the physiological and molecular mechanisms associated with embryonic survival and mortality in beef cattle.
The grant allows Dr. Pohler’s team to study a technology called “gene knockouts” in cattle. Dr. Pohler indicates this study “knocks out” a single gene to find what happens with the developing embryo and if the pregnancy continues or terminates. The study is used to show the impact of a gene family called pregnancy-associated glycoproteins or PAGS. These proteins have been used for years in pregnancy testing in cattle. The team removes those proteins one by one to determine which genes are involved in pregnancy loss.
It’s hoped new technology will help eliminate pregnancy loss. Both cows and bulls are studied, as it is unknown if the problem is on the cow’s side or the bull’s. Dr. Pohler says that only about 25% of cattle owners use pregnancy diagnosis, which is needed to determine when an animal loses a pregnancy.