This is our third year of purchasing frozen embryos. As blue-collar workers, buying frozen embryos is a big financial decision for us so of course we want to be successful in the process. To be honest, we've had some great experiences and not-so-great experiences. The not-so-great experiences could've been avoided if we would've done this first....educate ourselves! I don't mean you have to become an embryologist. You simply have to understand the basics and how the process works. Let me share the process with you and suggest some simple steps to take to increase your chances of success if you decide to purchase frozen embryos.
First, the quality of the embryo needs to be determined. I've listed below the technical description of determining the quality of an embryo. Understand this needs to be performed by a qualified veterinarian or reproductive specialist with expertise in embryo evaluation. It's done using specialized equipment, such as a microscope and imaging techniques. Experts have the knowledge and experience to make accurate assessments based on the specific breed's characteristics and standards. When determining the quality of a Valais Blacknose sheep embryo, there are several factors to consider. These factors can help assess the embryo's overall health, viability, and potential for successful development. Here are some key aspects specialists look for:
Morphology: The embryo's morphology refers to its physical structure and appearance. A high-quality embryo should have a well-defined and compact structure, indicating normal development and organization of cells.
Cell Stage: The stage of cell development is crucial in assessing embryo quality. The ideal stage for Valais Blacknose sheep embryos is the blastocyst stage. A blastocyst has two distinct cell types: an outer layer of cells called the trophoblast, which will form the placenta, and an inner cell mass, which will develop into the fetus. Embryos at this stage have the greatest chance of successful implantation and development.
Cell Number: The number of cells within the embryo can also indicate its quality. Typically, a higher number of cells suggests better development and viability. However, excessively high cell numbers may indicate abnormal growth, so an optimal cell count is desirable.
Cell Symmetry: The symmetry of cell distribution within the embryo is essential. A high-quality embryo will have evenly distributed cells, indicating proper development and division. Asymmetry or uneven cell distribution may suggest abnormalities or lower chances of successful development.
Cytoplasmic Clarity: Clear cytoplasm within the embryo's cells indicates a healthy state. Cloudy or granular cytoplasm may suggest potential issues or compromised viability.
Embryo Grade: Embryo grading systems can vary, but they are commonly used to assess overall quality. Grades are assigned based on various factors such as morphology, stage, and cell quality. Higher grades generally indicate better quality and increased chances of successful implantation.
Depending on who's doing the grading the embryos will be defined either alphabetically or numerically. A or (1) being the best and B or (2) being a grade lower and so on. Obviously, you want the grade A or (1). The grade of the embryo can affect the conception rate.
We recommend the following before purchasing frozen embryos:
Make sure your seller is a reputable breeder. Research them. Do they have a Facebook page? a website? Do you see pictures of them with their sheep? Are their postings current? Do they respond to you in a timely manner? Are they willing to answer questions?
Personally, we want to deal directly with the breeder and establish a relationship.
Ask them where the embryos were collected and view the facility's website.
Request to see the flush sheet showing the grades of the embryos.
Purchase only A or (1) embryos.
Ask the breeder what some of their previous conception rates were.
Use a reputable reproduction specialist to implant the embryos (the thawing process is crucial).
Understand the additional expenses. Shipping fees, specialist fees, recips, and transportation fees. Your reproduction specialist facility should provide you with a complete fee schedule.
I've been informed of breeders who've been duped into purchasing embryos not knowing they were B-grade. As expected, the conception rate was very low. If a breeder is willing to sell buyers B-grade embryos without explaining the high risk of a reduced conception rate, I consider this unethical. An educated buyer asks for a flush sheet.
As more and more people are getting involved in raising Valais Blacknose Sheep, we need to share information to help each other be successful. We need to educate each other by sharing our experiences. It's my hope that this little blog post will give new buyers the knowledge to follow the recommendations and always ask for a flush sheet to confirm what they're buying. This will increase their odds of having the lambing experience they hoped for.