In the year 2000, Costa Rica banned in-vitro fertilization or IVF. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has ordered the country to lift the ban, but to date no significant steps have been taken.
The in-vitro ban only referenced humans and not bovines which was good news for Barbara Lapp, owner of Lecheria Las Lapas in Siquirres.
In 2003, Ms. Lapp and two of her sisters imported a purebred African Ankole Watusi cow with the intention of cross breeding it with their Holsteins and Jerseys. “People said that the Atlantic slope was no place to have a dairy farm, but I knew we could do it” said Ms. Lapp. “At that time, there may have only been one other Watusi in the country.”
Watusi cattle are naturally resistant to harsh environmental conditions but have low milk production. “Cross breeding superior milk cows, like Holstein, with a breed that can survive in even the most adverse conditions, like the Watusi, made sense for us.” The Watusi’s horns are even functional heat dispersers.
In 2007, the first purebred Watusi was born on the Las Lapas Farm. The aptly named, female Afro-Tica comes from the imported Watusi cow and implanted bull sperm shipped from the United States. “Visitors to the farm were impressed by her long horns. We started getting inquires from farms that wanted a Watusi as a showpiece or to use as oxen. So we considered our options.”
Normally, cows must be at least two years old before getting pregnant, then the gestation period of nine months allows for only one calf a year. “We wanted to speed up the process so we looked into in-vitro”. Using host mothers a cow can reproduce between 150 and 200 calves annually.
The in-vitro process starts by removing an egg directly from the ovary of the female whose genes are to be reproduced. Then sperm from the male is injected directly into the egg to fertilize it. All of this is done in a dish. In-vitro boasts a high success rate due to the fact that only fertilized eggs are implanted into the host mother.
Esteban Mesen from Embryotech in San Antonio de Belén helped the dairy workers to implant nine fertilized eggs this year. Seven embryo’s started to grow.
To recoup the more than $3,000 that was spent on the imported sperm and cost for the veterinary services, Lecheria Las Lapas sold three pregnant females to a farm in Cartago. “We charged for the value of the pure Watusi embryo and the market price of the host cow” says Ms. Lapp. A 1-year-old purebred Watusi has a value of $2,000. She currently has four calves that are only a few weeks old.
Lecheria Las Lapas offers natural ice creams, yogurts and raw milk products to primarily the Atlantic Coast.