TH Group began utilising frozen artificial insemination in 2015, setting the trend as the first farm to exploit in vitro fertilisation (IVF) on a commercial scale in Viet Nam.
Previously, IVF for breeding of this nature was only seen in the lab. Recognising the advantages of the technology in terms of the development and improvement of the quality and quantity of dairy cows, TH Group made use of IVF in its dairy farm in Nghia Dan (Nghe An province). Over time, the animal husbandry team plans to master the technology.
TH recently imported 24 herds of Holstein Friesian (HF) dairy cows from New Zealand and the US. The goal is to produce offspring with the same quality and yield of milk as the leading breeds in the US, providing quality dairy cattle for TH farms and other dairy farms in the country.
TH pioneers in embryo technology application
Since 2009, TH founder Thai Huong and her associates who are international experts and have been in Vietnam for a long time, have developed the very important first steps for TH Group, as well as the livestock industry and agriculture in Vietnam. The pathway and the vicissitudes have provided for some milestones along the way.
VietnamPlus reporters came to Nghe An on the occasion of the visit by Vice President Vo Thi Anh Xuan and leaders of ministries and central agencies to the world’ largest concentrated cluster of dairy farms using the technology in Nghia Dan district of Nghe An.
Vice President Xuan recognised the significant changes in the socio-economic situation of Nghe Dan – one of the poorest districts of Nghe An.
She spoke highly of the progress and contributions from local dairy enterprises, including TH Founder Thai Huong, a national Labour Heroine. Dairy farms in Vietnam have become some of the best in the global dairy industry.
Associate Professor – Hoang Kim Giao, Chairman of the Vietnam Cattle Breeding Association, and former Director of the Department of Livestock Production under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, said that dairy breeding used to be a huge obstacle for the industry. Before TH Group got into dairy farming, Vietnam imported dairy cows mainly from Cuba, New Zealand, and Australia. Many F1 and F2 hybrid dairy cows were not purebred, therefore the milk quality and production were low, leading to lower revenues.
That all changed in 2001, as Vietnam imported 199 HF purebred dairy cows and 184 Jersey dairy cows from the US. This was the first time that Vietnam had imported dairy cows from the US. Descendants of this herd produce 30 percent more milk than previous cattle. However, the average milk production is only 5,000-6,000 litres per head per cycle (305 days).
By applying solutions to improve productivity and quality, TH’s purebred HF herd has achieved milk yield of up to 9,000 litres per cow in each cycle. Selective breeding has continued to improve these numbers.
A TH representative said that in 2015, processes changed dramatically after the group signed a contract with the US’s Sexing Technologies to import frozen embryos and transfer in vivo embryo production technology.
From the partnership, many generations of dairy cows have been developed on the farm, yielding outstanding milk production. The genetic resources have remained with the company as empirical successes of advanced breeding technology. Then, in 2019, TH partnered with ABS company to deploy and transfer IVF technology.
COVID-19 stopped growth for two consecutive years, making the transfer of IVF technology difficult as experts could not fly into Vietnam. But things started up again in March of 2022, with the TH Group welcoming its first ABS experts to Vietnam for the transfer of this special technology. TH is a pioneer in the dairy industry, leading the way through technological investment and a vision toward the future of the dairy industry in Vietnam.
Creating momentum for national dairy industry
The cows that provide embryos are meticulously selected with the help of a selection software provided by the ABS, ensuring that the chosen cows carry the best characteristics and have outstanding milk production and quality with high protein content.
Dr. Giao said that IVF technology, considered “the wisdom of the world”, will help TH and the dairy industry of Vietnam realise the dream of becoming absolutely autonomous in cattle breeding.
In Vietnam, in vitro fertilisation has also been carried out by a number of research facilities, but only in small scale with many different kinds of livestock. TH group has the land to produce hay and the cattle breeds to take advantage of IVF technology.
Particularly, TH founder Thai Huong has continually sought out the latest technologies in all stages of the milk production chain. As she says, she is determined to blaze the “runway” so the Vietnamese milk industry can “take off”.
“For that reason, as soon as I told her about the advantages of IVF in cattle breeding, Madame Thai Huong was very excited and confirmed that TH is determined to do it. And, I believe TH will be successful in the long run,” said Giao.
He asserted IVF technology will help promote cattle genetics in Vietnam, producing a generation of dairy cows with outstanding production and high quality milk, adding that the technology has a significant meaning not only to TH Group but also the whole Vietnamese diary industry, as it will help the industry produce dairy cows that cost as little as one-third of that for imported dairy cows, while minimising diseases imported from foreign cattle.
Cattle reared with IVF technology have a higher capacity of adapting to the climate in Vietnam.
TH has selected about 3.5-10 percent of its current herd, which are the best cattle for IVF application. In the future, TH will not only provide frozen embryos and breeders for its farms, but also to dairy farms across the country and even export them.
According to Efrat, IVF technique is embryo creation in vitro, so it is not like other techniques such as AI – performing insemination on all cows. IVF technology requires a very high level of meticulousness. Technicians must be trained in the proper techniques to ensure success.
Vijay Kumar Pandey, Chairman of the TH Food Milk JSC (THMF), said that the objective of the project is to bring IVF technology to Vietnam and transfer it to TH staff.
He said that with the current progress of the project, TH Group’s expected production is 5,000-6,000 embryos per year in the first phase. At a later stage, as TH becomes experts in the field, it will produce embryos for other dairy projects.
Guiding us to the technical areas at Farms No. 1 and 2, Gilad Efrat, Technical Director of THMF, said that IVF technique is to select the best cows that have the highest genetic potential to get embryos and give birth to female calves. The next generation of dairy calves will be of top quality in a select herd, from which more breeding cows will be developed.
Stressing the high level of technical difficulty with the breeding process, Efrat said that with experience from international experts, the firm will master this technology soon.
Improving the genetic quality also means improving the herd in Vietnam in general, he held.
“IVF embryos making on right track”
TH Group owns dairy cows with high genetic potential. In particular, TH has a lot of high-tech equipment, good conditions for the firm to implement IVF techniques like a modern laboratory, quite rare in the world. Right now, everything is going very smoothly.
In order to better understand the process of transferring IVF technology on dairy cattle as well as the effectiveness of the project, considered “historic work” not only for TH Group but also for the whole industry, VietnamPlus reporters interviewed Rodrigo Mendes Untura, IVF expert team leader of ABS (partner of TH Group).
– Đầu tiên, xin ông giới thiệu đôi nét về Công ty ABS, nơi sẽ chuyển giao công nghệ IVF hiện đại cho Tập đoàn TH?
Ông Rodrigo Mendes Untura: Công ty chúng tôi chuyên về công nghệ phôi, đã hoạt động được 22 năm và đang tiếp tục mở rộng, phát triển thị trường. Hiện tại, chúng tôi đã có mặt ở 23 nước trên thế giới. Một số phòng thí nghiệm ở Mỹ, Brazil và các nước Mỹ Latinh, Nam Mỹ,… của chúng tôi đã đạt được nhiều thành công. Lần này, chúng tôi mang những thành công đó đến chia sẻ với Tập đoàn TH.
Reporter: Could you please brief us on ABS Company, which will transfer the modern IVF technology to TH Group?
Rodrigo Mendes Untura: Our company specialises in embryo technology. We have been operating for 22 years and we are continuing to expand and develop our market. Currently, we are present in 23 countries around the world. Some of our laboratories in the US, Brazil and Latin American and South American countries have achieved many successes. This time, we bring those successes to share with TH Group.
Reporter: So, is this the first cooperation on IVF technology transfer that ABS has conducted with a Vietnamese partner?
Rodrigo Mendes Untura: Right! This is the first time we have collaborated on a project in Vietnam and we are very excited. To serve this project, in early 2020, two months before the outbreak of COVID-19, I went to Vietnam to discuss with TH Group some issues on how to transfer technology, but due to the outbreak of the pandemic, the project was delayed for a while. This time, we have returned to conduct specific tasks.
Reporter: How do you feel about TH Group through the process of working together?
Rodrigo Mendes Untura: TH Group has dairy cows with great genetic potential. In particular, TH has a lot of high-tech equipment, making it easier for the implementation of IVF technology. They have a modern laboratory that is hard to find anywhere in the world. Right now, everything is moving forward quite smoothly.
Reporter: In terms of personnel, how do you rate TH’s staff who are involved in the implementation of this IVF project?
Rodrigo Mendes Untura: Human resources are a fundamental factor in project development. Currently, TH Group has a team of highly-qualified and experienced experts, so the firm has cooperated well with us to facilitate the progress of the project and succeed.
Reporter: In your opinion, how will this IVF technology help TH in particular and the dairy industry in general in increasing the quality of clean fresh dairy products?
Rodrigo Mendes Untura: IVF technology has important meaning in the livestock industry, especially in terms of genetic improvement compared to normal insemination methods. We can select eggs from the best females, select the best male sperm, thus multiplying the genetic potential.
When operating a dairy farm, it is common to import high-yielding cows from other countries. Therefore, when applying this IVF technology, TH Group can self-supply in laboratories, embryo production, and dairy cow breeding to improve genetic potential. As a result, the firm will enjoy lower production costs, higher technology, greater advantages and gain a higher quality technical team. This is really an advantage for TH in particular and Vietnam in general.
Reporter: So how long may it take for TH Group to fully master this IVF technology?
Rodrigo Mendes Untura: In order to fully master this technology, it requires a minimum of 1 year for training, about 1.5 to 2 years for ovum pick-up (OPU), and at least 1 year for embryo implantation. I highly appreciate the technicians of TH Group. They have learned very quickly from the first days of work.
Reporter: As the project’s expert team leader, what are your expectations for this project?
Rodrigo Mendes Untura: We have high expectations for this project, because TH Group has always supported us during its implementation. We are also really happy to accompany the first Vietnamese enterprise to implement such project.
Thank you very much!
The TH dairy farm in Nghia Dan has been recognised as the world’s largest centralised dairy farm with CNC application by the World Hepatitis Alliance. Here, TH has pioneered the application of a series of advanced techniques in dairy farming such as genetic selection to have dairy cows providing A2 milk and converting cows and pastures to international standards for organic farming. The firm is currently taking the lead in IVF embryo production in dairy cows in Vietnam, with the desire to create precious genetic resources and provide excellent fresh milk with high protein content, all for public health./.