2011 AETA Annual Convention Student Scholarship Award Winner Report: J. Oliver Irons

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Published on: October 27, 2011

J. Oliver Irons, Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine

2011 AETA Conference Scholarship winner

First and foremost, I am incredibly fortunate and appreciative for the opportunity to attend the 2011 AETA/CETA-ACTE Joint Annual Convention in San Antonio.  The hospitality and inclusion I received was unrivaled from the members of both organizations.  Over the last eight years, I have been involved with superovulation and embryo transfer within my family’s registered and commercial beef cattle operation.  Truthfully, my fascination for these techniques became the main driving force to pursue veterinary school a few years ago.  Therefore, when I was informed of the opportunity to attend this conference on scholarship, I was excited to attend and created the following objectives:

  • To broaden my knowledge of varying management strategies for the donor and recipient
  • To gain more understanding of different cryopreservation equipment and techniques
  • Understanding the different scenarios for in-vitro versus in-vivo practices, and the future outlook of each within the different segments of the cattle industry
  • To network and create multiple mentoring relationships with current leading practitioners

Currently, we all know that conception rates among dairy herds are one of the key problems in the industry, specifically from the practicing and consulting veterinarian’s standpoint.  Dr. Todd Bilby’s presentation on the “Use of in vitro embryo transfer to improve summer fertility in dairy cows” imparted some impressive numbers, specifically for the “repeat breeder.”    These “repeat breeders”–which directly relate to Dr. Ireland’s talk on “Does size matter? An overview of the impact of the high variation in the ovarian reserve on ovarian function and fertility…”– typically conceive AI at a ~10-20% rate, but the transplantation of IVP fresh embryos can achieve ~40-50% conception.   The overall added cost could be significant to implement an IVF ET program into a dairy herd, but as input cost per cow continues to rise, large commercial dairies could experience a major benefit with these practices.  Cost of embryos could significantly decrease by using oocytes from cull and harvest facilities, and the genetic value could be maintained by using sex sorted semen from conventional leading sires.  With similar programs used in certain parts of the South American beef industry, it will be interesting if this practice becomes more common in the future of large dairy operations in the United States.


As a current producer of agricultural products, I understand the importance of sustainability and efficiency.  When taking a look at the current landscape of the beef industry, one can find the smallest herd inventory since the late 1950s.  As of July 1, 2011, the current cattle herd inventory has continued its steady decline in both Canada and the United States.  Specifically, the semi-annual USDA-NASS Canadian and U.S. cattle inventory report reveals cows and heifers with calves are down 2% and 1% in Canada and the U.S., respectively.  Furthermore, the continued drought situation in two major cattle producing states -Texas and Oklahoma- will create a more devastating decline for the future.   Regardless of the previous data, there has only been a slight decrease in total pounds of meat products (beef).   The selection and technology processes available to producers can be credited with this efficiency and the increase in the ratio of total pounds of product per total number of cattle harvested.    As Dr. Kevin DeHaan presented in his “Genomics: The science behind the numbers” lecture, genetic marker discover and validation is the next available technology for farmers and ranchers to continue producing more efficient cattle.   The use of science and technology will only secure the avenue of increasing sustainability and efficiency within agricultural production.


World population growth will create a prosperous future for agricultural products and services.   Food demand, especially protein demand, will only increase as India and China will double their gross domestic product between 2005 and 2015, meaning that people will have more money to purchase food, leading to dietary changes within those populations; as we know, there is a linear correlation between income and meat and dairy consumption. The increased demand for meat and dairy will lead to more trade, with developing countries needing more food and animals for import.  The increase of importation will create opportunities for cattle producers and the practicing veterinarian who specializes in embryo transfer.


In conclusion, I am extremely optimistic about the future of the cattle industry, but I understand the necessary work and guidance we as veterinarians must provide to our clients in order to benefit in the ever changing economic climate.   Fortunately, organizations, such as the American Embryo Transfer Association, give future leaders the opportunity to participate in such an exceptional experience in order to gain a more knowledgeable perspective from its members and industry counterparts.  Once again, I truly appreciate the experience.   And without hesitation, I truly believe your investment in this program will capitalize by grooming intelligent, energetic, and creative veterinary advocates to keep the cattle industry sustainable for many years ahead.

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