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Virtual twins: Cattle cloning gaining acceptance
By SARAH B. AUBREY
Indiana Correspondent

GALESBURG, Kan. — Since 1997, Beefmaster cow Cathy Lee has owned the breed record for the most expensive female ever sold. Impressive, yes, but Cathy Lee’s owner, Cody Gillespie of Decatur, Texas, decided to push the envelope after he bought her. In 2002, he had her cloned.

Today, she’s the first and only Beefmaster ever cloned, and among just a few hundred cloned beef animals that are being used by purebred and commercial breeders in the United States.

Cloning technology is new in beef cattle, and isn’t commonly practiced among cattle producers. But progressive types like Gillespie see this technology becoming mainstream sooner than some believe.

“We bought Cathy Lee because we wanted to be on top of the breed,” Gillespie began. “Once she started to get up in age (Cathy Lee was 14 when she was cloned), we needed to come up with some way to continue to recoup our investment. I felt like I had to clone her, it was the only way to keep her earning money.”

Gillespie said cloning is the only way to keep generating money off of a good cow, whereas a bull’s semen can be frozen. He sees cloning as crucial for females.

Don Coover, a veterinarian and owner of Genetic Horizons/SEK Genetics in Galesburg, Kan., has experience with cloning bulls. In 2001, he financed a cloning project for a bull called Full Flush.

From Full Flush’s cells, six clones were produced, though one was accidentally killed as a calf. Coover did not own the clones, but he kept the rights to the semen sales through his genetics distribution company. The decision was based upon Full Flush’s value to the industry. Full Flush has sired more than 30,000 calves.

“Cloning is the only way, right now, to preserve and extend genetics on high quality animals with identified superior traits,” he said. “There’s no loss to death.”

Coover continues to remain involved in cloning projects with customers.

Costs for cloning are considered the reason why the technology is not a common practice. Suzanne Turner of Turner Strategies, a public relations firm for Austin, Texas-based Viagen, said costs to clone vary depending on how many resulting cloned animals are achieved.

“The initial clone is between $10,000 and $20,000 depending on a number of factors. After that, costs get as low as $6,000 for over 10 clones,” she said.

Clones are often referred to as copies.

Dr. David Faber, president of Trans Ova Genetics in Iowa, said costs for cloning are tiered, and at Trans Ova, can include a package of services. The basic cost range is $10,000-$12,000 per clone plus a charge for cell banking and the embryo transfer fee involved to implant the original animal’s genetic material into a receipt cow that will calve the clone.

“Cell banking on elite animals may become even more common,” Faber noted.

Cell banking is the actual storage of the genetic material taken from the original animal in what’s called a cell line. These cells can be frozen and stored much like semen and embryos and used again and again to create future clones.

One reason cloning costs are so high is that calving rate is much lower than typical birth rates.

“Only 10-25 percent of receipts that we transfer (the embryos) will actually have the calf,” said Chris Sigurdson, sales and marketing manager for Trans Ova.

For many, cloning is worth the risk Coover believes some producers want to be seen as industry innovators, while others recognize the value of continuing to sell high quality animals. While he feels cloning is a revolution in genetics akin to computer technology, he cautions against using the technology without marketing.

“Cloning could dilute the value of the original animal if a producer creates so many that the original is no longer unique,” he said. “If you glut the market with clones, it’s just supply and demand and the price will go down.”

Phil Lautner, of Lautner Farms, is a beef producer and distributor of beef bulls and semen in Jefferson, Iowa. He hasn’t seen the value of his original animal decline after it was cloned.

About three years ago he had a bull called Heat Wave cloned and said that the clone of Heat Wave, called Wave on Wave or Heat Wave I, hasn’t made Heat Wave’s semen any more or less expensive. “We charge $65 per straw of Heat Wave, and we sell the clone’s semen for $20,” he said.

From a sales standpoint, the profits from cloning are there, especially with semen sales, but relatively few breeders have opted to sell their live animals. Profits are big on high-end donors, as Gillespie sold the clone of Cathy Lee for a large, but undisclosed, sum as well as her cell line and rights to use it.

“If people use this technology right, it will really pay off,” he said.

For details, visit these websites: ncba.org, Clonesafety.org, Viagen.com, Cyagra.com, Transova.com, Sekgenetics.com

This farm news was published in the March 15, 2006 issue of Farm World.

3/15/2006