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Years of progress for U.S. dairy genetics

Genetic progress on the nation’s dairy farms has been quite remarkable. Thanks to advanced reproductive technologies, over the past 30 years. From embryo transfer to in-vitro fertilization, the ability to expedite top-performing genetics has improved production for dairy farmers worldwide. Veterinarians and friends Dan Hornickel and Chris Keim were first talking about embryo transfer and IVF in their college days in the 1970s.

“Our start was very early. There wasn’t a lot of information. I wouldn’t call us pioneers, but we were certainly among the first that were doing work in the field,” said Hornickel. “And from there it grew.

The pair worked on their animals for several years. They didn’t feel qualified to put that technology into the public, but as they became more proficient. Clients began asking for the technology. As luck would have it, Sunshine Genetics started about 1982.

Keim and Hornickel agreed freezing embryos was the biggest factor to impact their business in 30 years

“Freezing technology was a big, big breakthrough for us and other businesses in the ET industry,” Keim said. “We could go to a client’s farm and preserve the leftover embryos if he didn’t have enough recipients available. That gave the farmer a lot of flexibility.”

The advent of freezing opened up a whole world of export work for the duo. It became a large part of their business, freezing and exporting. Along with that over the years, the development of IVF techniques has added to the merchandise ability of the cattle owned by Sunshine Genetics clients.

Another significant milestone in the advancement of reproductive technologies is sorted semen, which can allow breeders to select for either male or female offspring

“It’s helped with the marketing of embryos when clients in other countries want female embryos from some of the best Holstein cows in the world, they could have a 95 percent chance of producing a heifer calf from one of these frozen embryos,” said Hornickel

Working alongside progressive dairy farmers through the years has kept Hornickel and Keim encouraged about what the future may hold

“The biggest challenge for dairying today is profitability, and obviously, the advancing genetics is all designed to add to that profitability,” Keim said. “But keeping your eyes open, keeping your operation viable and financially sound as best you can, using all the tools that you can, I think that takes a lot of pressure off of dairymen today if they can accomplish that. And that’s a big challenge right now.”

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