Embryo Transfer...Imagine the Possibilities
by Marilyn Short

Relatively new to the equine world in the United States, the production of foals using embryo transfer (ET) is becoming more popular with exciting possibilities. Large, small, and the occasional horse breeder are considering ET to be a viable option for their breeding programs.

Unknown to most Texans, located in the rolling hills just outside of Boerne, Texas is Double Diamond Ranch, with one of the most unique breeding, reproduction, and training facilities in Central Texas. In addition to Double Diamond being one of the most respected Arabian facilities in the country, owner Ted Blanch is providing embryo transfer and reproduction services to horse breeders of all breeds at the ranch’s state-of-the-art Equine Reproduction Center.

In 1999, Blanch brought Dr. Mario Zerlotti, an internationally known expert in the field of equine reproduction to Double Diamond. The highly successful Dr. Zerlotti is the head of the Reproduction Center at the ranch and has been performing embryo transfers and artificial inseminations for 16 years.

Embryo Transfer is the process of recovering embryos from a bred (donor) mare and placing them in a recipient or surrogate mare, which, in turn, carries the foal to term and raises it as her own. The foal is genetically the product of the stallion and the donor mare, so the donor mare will be the foal’s registered dam. A mare is capable of producing multiple embryos in a given year, so it is now possible to complete multiple ET’s versus one foal a year. This year, Double Diamond Ranch completed five successful ET’s on one of its prized Arabian show mares.

Large and small breeders, and even the occasional breeders are utilizing ET in their breeding programs, for many reasons

1) To obtain a foal from a mare that is unable to carry a foal to term due to uterine disease or injury;
2) To obtain a foal from an older mare of proven bloodlines without risk;
3) To obtain a foal from a performance mare without interrupting her performance career;
4) To obtain a foal from a young filly that can produce embryos, but is not yet able to carry a foal to term;
5) ET cuts down on breeding injuries and the spread of venereal diseases; and
6) To test the consistent productivity of a new stallion with proven mares.

Several factors must be considered when thinking about ET for your mare or breeding program. First and foremost is whether your breed registry approves of embryo transfer. Artificial insemination and embryo transfer are not approved at all for Thoroughbreds. Some registries limit the number of foals per year that can be registered from a dam; other registries require DNA testing prior to the ET. To date, Zerlotti has performed successful embryo transfers on Arabians, Quarter Horses, Paints, and Saddlebreds and a few other Brazilian breeds.

Another factor is the choice of recipient mares. Recipient mares should be between the ages of 4-8 years old with regular heat cycles, reproductively normal, be easy to handle, quiet, and halter broke. Also synchronization of ovulation between the donor mare and the recipient mare is essential.

According to Zerlotti, the recipient mare is the key to successful embryo transfers. In order to improve the probability of successful synchronization, Zerlotti has 3-4 recipient mares cycling with each donor mare. He takes great care in selecting the recipient mares for Double Diamond, and they keep approximately 50+ recipient mares, which are Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Half-Arabians, and Arabians.

When the donor mare ovulates, she is bred to the chosen stallion through artificial insemination, using frozen, cooled or fresh semen. Eight days after insemination the embryo will be flushed from the donor mare and checked by Zerlotti for quality. The embryo is then transferred into the recipient mare. Four to five days after the transfer, an ultrasound will be performed on the recipient mare to see if the transfer was successful. At the recipient mare’s 60-day pregnancy check, she may leave the ranch to be returned after the foal has been weaned.

Another concern about ET is the cost. Research has decreased the costs and increased the success rates of embryo transfers. The entire procedure, from insemination to transfer including ultrasounds and other procedures, costs approximately $3,500, which includes up to three embryo flushes.

Although the Double Diamond Reproduction Center is available to all breeds, they also offer an exciting economical breeding solution for Arabians, Half Arabians, Saddlebreds and Quarter Horses, called the “Create A Foal” program. The Create A Foal program offers top quality, award-winning Arabian, Saddlebred and Quarter Horse mares and stallions and it’s so simple! You pick the mare, you pick the stallion, and you get the foal. They have various packages available and the very reasonable price includes the ET fees, donor mare fees and egg and use of recipient mare. With stallions enrolled in the program at a discounted Stud Fee, but you can use any stallion of your choosing. They are also excepting new enrollments for these breeds and others into the program, both mares and stallions.

Embryo transfer certainly adds an exciting dimension to horse breeding…imagine the possibilities.

To find out more about Dr. Zerlotti, the possibilities of embryo transfer for your breeding program, and the “Create A Foal” program; Double Diamond is holding their annual Open House on Saturday, November 15th at 11:00 am. Dr. Zerlotti will be on hand to answer your breeding questions; you can walk through the barns and Reproduction Center, enjoy the presentations of the award-winning stallions and mares of Double Diamond Ranch, and enjoy the “Big D” Texas Bar-B-Que and Party. If you’d like to attend the Open House, please contact Victoria Blanch at 830-816-2950 or send an email to Victoria or Dr. Zerlotti at: info@doublediamondarabians.com

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