cattle embryo

Here is the latest posting outlining another VetSalus project. This project describes how the introduction of cutting edge reproductive technology can accelerate genetic improvement (and thus increase production efficiency and sustainability) in Zimbabwe.

David Black, a VetSalus consultant from founding members, Paragon Veterinary Group, was involved in this project and wrote this report.

An Innovate UK funded project led by Dan Griffiths of Paragon Veterinary Group and Activf-ET has recently commenced looking at improving the efficiency of sub-Saharan cattle, utilising cutting-edge precision breeding to enhance the genetics of the indigenous cattle. Other key partners in the project are the University of Nottingham, and Zimbabwean companies Nurture and Dendairy.

Dan explains, “Genetic improvement is imperative to increase the efficiency of milk and meat production in developing countries, improving the availability of healthy nutritious food, maximising feed efficiency and minimising environmental impacts.”

So why is a project like this required?

  • Sustainable agriculture needs high animal health and welfare standards with improved productivity
  • Genetic gain by conventional breeding is relatively slow in cattle
  • The import of live animals into Africa is problematic and inefficient
  • Organic growth of the national herd is unable to meet demand, and does not allow maximum exploitation of improved genetics that can be established through a project such as this
  • This innovative approach will give the UK the opportunity to supply bovine genetics to Zimbabwe and create a model to supply other developing African countries

This project, by utilising genomic selection, ovum pick-up (OPU) and in-vitro embryo production (IVP) will ensure that routine selection and breeding is amplified. No genes are modified, this is merely an acceleration of routine selection and breeding. So highly desirable UK genetic traits can be sent to Zimbabwe cost effectively, minimising biosecurity risks, and allowing calves to adapt to the environment from birth. This breeding plan will then multiply these genetics locally utilising multiple ovulation embryo transfer (MOET), developing a genomic index to reselect, re-amplify and rapidly accelerate genetic gain.


By combining and utilising the latest cattle genomic and breeding technologies, we can efficiently select from a large untapped reserve of UK cattle genetics by identifying desirable traits. By efficiently producing OPU/IVF embryos we can ‘funnel’ the genetic improvement and send it to Zimbabwe where we can then amplify these traits locally, thereby creating a ‘cascade’ of benefits.

VetSalus consultant David Black is particularly involved with another aspect of the project. He says “As part of our global collaboration we seek to develop a new veterinary-led animal health service, facilitating the establishment of a practice supporting local dairy farmers with high quality veterinary care and health management including reproductive technologies. This will be supported by training in Africa and the UK and by online and virtual support from VetSalus consultants”.

The benefits of this project touch many communities in Zimbabwe.

To Zimbabwe as a country: 

  • Increased meat and milk production for domestic use, as well as export markets
  • Reducing foreign currency exchange challenges
  • Stimulating foreign investment and better usage of infrastructure

To Zimbabwean partners:

  • Dendairy - improved supply of raw product for a range of dairy products. Increased supply will reduce cost of production and improve viability
  • Nurture - improved production of hybrid bulls and increased number of cooperating herds, facilitating training and financing of commercial farms

To the population of Zimbabwe:

  • Improved food security - adequacy and nutritionally
  • Improved livelihoods
  • Upskilling of veterinarians and technicians and farmers
  • New roles in agriculture, at farm level and the downstream supply chain

To women in Zimbabwe:

  • Many women and girls are involved with subsistence farming
  • Improving the animals and efficiency will empower and elevate the status of women, while providing financial and nutritional security for their families

To cattle in Zimbabwe: 

  • Healthier cattle with a higher welfare status requiring less veterinary intervention (including fewer antibiotics and hormones)
  • More productive, longer living, less environmentally impactful