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Texas A&M study looks at management strategy for mitigating early embryonic loss

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

According to Reinaldo Cooke, the Burkhart Endowed Professor for Beef Cattle Research in Texas A&M University’s (TAMU) Department of Animal Science, cow/calf systems represent 86 percent of beef operations and 84 percent of the entire beef cattle population in the nation.

In a Nov. 7 Farm Progress article written by Kay Ledbetter, Cooke explains the key factor limiting cow/calf productivity is reproductive loss, specifically early pregnancy loss – the majority of which occurs during the first 28 days of gestation.

In an effort to mitigate early embryonic loss and the economic havoc it wreaks on cow/calf producers across the country, TAMU Agri-Life researchers are conducting a study on supplementing cows with fatty acids in early gestation.

Background information

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are typically derived from vegetable oils, seeds and nuts, have long been used as human health supplements, as they both play a role in brain function, growth and development.

As a source of polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-6 helps stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism and maintain the reproductive system. 

Omega-3 is an important component of cell membranes and helps with essential functions of the heart, blood vessels, lungs, immune system and endocrine system. 

Additionally, omega-6 works as an inflammatory and has historically been fed in beef cattle diets, while omega-3 works as an anti-inflammatory and has not.

“Our group provided evidence supplementing beef cows with a lipid source rich in omega-6 fatty acids during the early embryonic period increased pregnancy success by promoting conceptus development, establishment and maintenance of the pregnancy,” Cooke says.

TAMU research project 

So, Cooke and his team of researchers set out to determine if omega-6 fatty acids could be used as a management tool in preventing early embryonic loss in beef cattle, particularly during the first 28 days of pregnancy.

Cooke notes the idea behind the study is to determine if there are complementary effects between omega-6 and omega-3, since omega-6 provides fuel for embryo development while omega-3 prevents excessive inflammation.

“We want to answer the question of how much omega-6 is too much – this is the first project,” Cooke explains. “The second project is comparing the two, using a dose of omega-6 that we know works and then seeing if omega-3 has complementary effects.”

“It’s fine-tuning what is too much or too little,” he adds. “We want to find the balance between the two to find good nutritional strategies for beef cattle reproductive management.”

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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