First fully South African cloned calf born

The first calf fully cloned by South African veterinarians has just been born in Badplaas, Mpumalanga. The Chianina calf, Michelle, was cloned from one of cattle farmer Christiaan de Jager’s best Chianina cows.

De Jager, owner of the O-La-La Chianina stud in Badplaas, told African Farming that this is not only the first cloned Chianina calf in South Africa but also a world first for the breed.

He also considers it a proud first for South African expertise because two local veterinarians, Dr Gert Jordaan, a former Free State rugby player from Somerset West, and Dr Niel van Zyl of In Vitro Africa in Parys, did all the work.

Complicated process

The complex cloning process began last year when a piece was clipped from the ear of the 12-year-old Chianina cow OL 828 and taken to Jordaan’s laboratory. He grew stem cells from it and placed them in the enucleated egg cell of a slaughtered cow to develop it into an embryo for seven days in a test tube.

Van Zyl then implanted the embryo into a Drakensberger recipient cow where it successfully grew, and the calf Michelle was born on 29 June. The cow calved normally.

The first cloned animal in Africa was the Holstein calf Futhi, born via Caesarean section on 19 April, 2003, in Brits, North West. At the time, scientists in Britain had already created a cloned sheep, Dolly.

The success was achieved by Dr Morne de la Rey of Embryo Plus, his partner Dr Robert Treadwell, and Prof Gabor Vajta, a Danish embryo specialist who travelled to South Africa for the complex work. Their first attempt was successful. The heifer’s name, Futhi, means “repeat” or “replica” in isiZulu.

De Jager is proud of the veterinary team’s achievement. He had the cow OL 828 cloned because she has exceptional genetic traits and is one of his best breeding cows. Her offspring perform excellently and one of her bull calves, OL 23-470 Rudolphi, is in a growth test at the bull test station in Irene, Pretoria. He was born on 28 June,2023, and was thus a year and a day old when his half-sister was born. Rudolphi already weighed 568 kg on 20 June this year.

The Chianina is an ancient cattle breed of Italian origin, and De Jager owns the largest Chianina stud in South Africa.

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