This vet promotes reproductive technologies for consumer-oriented beef production.
Brad Stroud may be a small town veterinarian, but his expertise in the development and use of bovine technologies is widely acclaimed in the international arena.
The Weatherford, TX, native produced the first live commercial calves from a clinically infertile cow utilizing a procedure he developed called the "Modified GIFT (Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer) Technique" back in 1988. This involves harvesting ova - unovulated eggs - with a laparoscope via a flank puncture, then surgically transferring them into the oviducts of reproductively healthy females so normal fertilization and embryonic development can take place.
About 40 live calves were born as a result of this process. Logistical barriers, however, discouraged Stroud from pursuing further commercial development.
And, in 1991, Stroud was among the first veterinarians to commercially produce "test tube" calves utilizing in vitro fertilization.
Stroud has ridden the boom and bust of embryo transfer (ET). He hopped on the chugging train in the infancy of commercial ET use in 1980. And, he rode the steep growth curve until the mid-'80s when changes in the tax laws drained the tax shelter dollars like a plug pulled from the sink.
But, Stroud sees a renaissance of sorts building today in the use of reproductive technologies. It's a renaissance, he says, that is coming for the right reasons.
After a few years of reorganization, the purebred beef market is flourishing based on its own merit, rather than on the tax-based incentives that existed during ET's hey day, Stroud says.
"Meat quality, carcass quality and niche marketing are revolutionizing the beef industry as we speak," he says.
"I got involved with an industry that has so much to offer technically, and it's going to be even more fascinating in the future," Stroud says. "I feel the best days of beef production are yet to come. Now, cattle producers are beginning to breed for a purpose, namely quality carcass traits and meat production."
During the 1980s, success in the beef industry centered around the show ring, Stroud says. Outside investors measured their success with banners, trophies and blue ribbons.
"That visual appeal is important, and it always will be," Stroud says. "But, it's not the most important measuring stick in the beef-cattle industry."
Now, quality edible meat is the preferred end-product of raising cattle, he says. And, with new technologies that will evolve over the next decade, breeders can reach their production goals.
"That's why you see me doing ET today. There's a real future to serve producers who want to make headway with quality meat," Stroud says.
Sold At First Sight In August 1980, Brad Stroud was a young, restless veterinarian employed in a mixed practice near Weatherford. It was then that he visited a veterinarian friend who worked at Select Embryos, a start-up bovine reproduction center in Plain City, OH. His intention was to learn something about a burgeoning new field in bovine reproduction called ET.
Once he started examining bovine embryos under a microscope, it took the Texas A&M University (TAMU) graduate about 10 seconds to realize his life would never be the same. He quit his job and spent the next six months learning ET techniques, practicing on the cattle of anyone who would give him a chance to hone his skills.
"Demand for ET services was grandiose in Texas at that time," Stroud recalls. "There were only two or three ET practices up and running when I first started, and demand was so great that I got business before I wanted business."
With the support of his partners, his wife Mendee and his parents, Herman and Barbara, he officially launched Stroud Veterinary Embryo Services in November 1980. Business boomed from the outset. Within three years, the practice housed 150 donor cows and maintained more than 500 recipients on 12,000 leased acres.
For five years, Stroud and his 17 full-time employees worked 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, year-round. His reputation spread quickly among top dairy and beef cattle breeders. Today, he's recognized internationally for his expertise in bovine reproductive technologies.
ET's Rise, Fall And Renaissance From 1983 through 1985, Stroud performed 3,000 to 4,000 ETs per year. A typical beef client spent $100,000 to $250,000 annually for his services.
But, everything changed drastically with the Tax Reform Act of 1986. All the major tax incentives once readily available to investors were washed away. In 1987, he performed less than 500 ETs.
Today, with the help of just one full-time employee, office manager Sherry Horton, Stroud serves about 100 beef herds in Texas and Oklahoma. In 1988, he slashed his travel schedule in order to spend more time with his family. Since then, about 80% of his time is spent at the clinic, and 80% of his work is ET.
"More than ever, beef breeders are using ET to improve their herds, and basically it's a numbers game," Stroud points out. "With ET, a genetically superior female can produce from 10 to 20 calves per year without having to give birth herself."
Stroud's most budget-minded clients can have a donor cow flushed for about $670, if the client handles superovulation, heat detection and artificial insemination (AI) on the farm or ranch, and transports the animal to the clinic on flush day.
That $670 covers $85 for a superovulation kit that includes injectable hormones (FSH and Lutalyse), syringes and needles. The flush fee at the clinic runs $225. If six viable embryos are recovered, three might be transferred to recipients at $60 each, and three might be frozen for later use at $60 each.
Besides ET, Stroud's services include semen evaluation, AI, pregnancy diagnosis and ultrasound fetal sexing. Relative to the latter two services, Stroud is considered a pioneer in the art of bovine reproductive ultrasonography.
Under optimum conditions, ultrasound can detect a bovine fetal heartbeat as soon as 28 days after conception. During the early stages of fetal development, ultrasound can be used to monitor the viability and size of the fetus. As a result of work perfected at TAMU and the University of Wisconsin, ultrasound also is used to determine the sex of cattle fetuses as soon as 55 days after conception (see "Ultrasound Sexing" below).
Many of Stroud's clients use ultrasound as a marketing tool.
"A lot of my clients are selling sexed pregnancies," he explains. "One producer sells ET recipients carrying bull fetuses to commercial bull buyers. Others get premium prices by selling females carrying females."
Stroud recommends that bred females get ultrasound exams just before a consignment sale.
"Embryonic deaths that occur during the first trimester are difficult and sometimes impossible to diagnose by rectal palpation," he points out. "An ultrasound removes any buyer doubts."
Stroud charges $35 for an in-clinic ultrasound exam. Contact him by e-mail him at [email protected]
Bovine ultrasound readings are taken by passing a device called a transducer over the body part or system to be evaluated. For detailed examinations of the reproductive tract in livestock, the examiner inserts the transducer rectally.
Vibrating crystals in the transducer produce high-frequency sound waves. These waves travel through tissue and fluids, but any change in density causes some to bounce back (echoes).
The transducer detects the returning waves. A monitor attached to the transducer interprets them as a moving picture of whatever the transducer is moving over. During an ultrasound exam of a pregnant uterus, for example, the skeleton, limbs and other body parts of the fetus can be seen on the monitor's screen.
Sexing is done by locating the genital tubercle, the forerunner of the external sex organs. On days 48 and 49 of gestation, the bovine fetal tubercle lies behind the hind limbs. After that, the tubercle moves toward the umbilical cord in males and toward the tail in females.
By day 55, the tubercle lies immediately behind the umbilical cord in males and under the tail in females. With ultrasound, practitioners identify the location of the tubercle at that stage and identify the sex of the fetus.