Making mothers in the mountains

Red Angus receptor cow

If you are a visitor to Panama, I strongly recommend taking a trip up into the mountains of Chiriqui. The drive from Concepcion to Volcan is especially beautiful – particularly early in the morning. As you reach an elevation above 4,000 feet you have views all around you. Looking back you can see the city of David and the Pacific Ocean, to your left is the Armuelles Peninsular and Costa Rica.

Another thing that delights visitors and locals alike, is the wonderful pastoral nature of the country. The grass is always green ( that’s because it rains most of the time)and it seems that every open area is full with cows, bulls and adorable looking calves.

Collecting embryos

At the entrance to most farms are signs from Panama’s leading dairy producers proudly showing that they produce: grade “A” milk. Trust me not only is the milk top notch, so is another important aspect, that being the beef industry. But as wonderful as nature is, occasionally it can use a helping hand from cutting edge, high-tech science.

Last week I watched as one on Panama’s leading fertilization technicians worked his magic on a herd of Red Angus cows at a farm near Volcan. Cuban born veterinarian, Dr. Reinaldo de Armas is truly a world class expert on embryo transfer and super-ovulation. He obtained his Master’s degree in Germany and his doctorate in Czechoslovakia.

Dr. Reinaldo Armas and assistant

First he took some 3 foot long straws containing Red Angus semen that were stored in liquid nitrogen and then, after bringing them up to the required temperature, inserted them into two donor cows. Seven days later, the fertilized eggs were first removed and checked under several microscopes before being re-inserted in ten “receptor cows.” Needless to say, the synchronization of the donors and receptors required extremely precise preparatory work. In all the process lasted 32 days or thereabouts.

I asked the manager of the farm why did he elect to go through this process? He answered that science allows you to speed up the process considerably. he wants to bring his herd up to be fully accredited Red Angus – and this was the quickest way to do it.

He further explained that the breed of Red Angus is a good choice of cattle as they are adaptable at various temperatures, they have small heads which means less problems in birth, and finally, the meat product is, after the Wagyu breed, probably the best that money can buy.

After sixty days, ultra-sound will confirm the viability of the embryonic transplants. Then when the full nine month gestation period is over, the hills of Chiriqui will resound with sounds of possibly a dozen new calves, all colored red, and all looking as cute as new born calves can be. I will admit is does cause me some concern that in a year from now I could be enjoying some of these animals with a side order of fries and some onions in a local restaurant. I will try to separate myself from the vision of these cute young steak-lets to be and try to concentrate on the scientific process that made it all possible.

Screening through a microscope for viable embryos

Panama, is clearly on the leading edge of world class embryonic fertilization, and with the work of dedicated vets such as Dr. Reinaldo de Armas, those of us with a desire to eat meat will see the quality of our food just get better and better.