Saving the Suffolk at Stallion AI Services

March 5, 2018

Stallion AI Services are proud to be playing a vital part in the survival of the oldest and one of most iconic of the British heavyweight horse breeds, by currently standing three Suffolk stallions for semen collection and freezing.

On the RBST “critical” list of endangered breeds, the Suffolk horse could become extinct within the next 10 years. The ground-breaking work carried out by Tullis Matson and his team uses the very latest technological and scientific advances to preserve the breed’s gene pool for generations to come and in doing so save an important part of British heritage.

Once widely used in agriculture, the Suffolk horse is a strong and hardy breed with a proud history dating back to 1768, making it the oldest heavy horse studbook in Britain. There are now fewer than 300 Suffolk horses left, and the numbers of breeding females have dwindled from 1334 broodmares in 1947 to a mere 73 in 2017.

Whatton Albert, Thornfield Pendragon and Craikhow Hall Jensen, photo credit Horse Power Creative

In view of these alarming developments, the RBST have has taken action, and raised over £25,000 through their Heavy Horse Appeal, which will go towards the collection and storage of semen from stallions representing endangered heavy horse breeds, such as the Suffolk, Clydesdale and Shires, to preserve their rare and valuable genetics for future generations.

As an industry leader in semen collection and preservation, Stallion AI Services collaborate closely with the RBST on their tireless work to bring these much-loved horse breeds back from the brink of extinction. Autumn 2017 saw the launch of the RBST’s National Livestock Gene Bank, which was celebrated at Stallion AI’s state-of-the-art facility at Chapel Field Stud.

Gail Sprake, chairman of the RBST Trustees, explains: “In 2002, we began a project to collect semen from stallions of endangered breeds, and Stallion AI Services were involved from the start of the project. So far, we have collected or been gifted over 4000 doses of semen from 72 stallions of 14 breeds. Between 1900 and 1973, the United Kingdom lost 26 of its native breeds. We are extremely proud that since our foundation in 1973, and thanks to a lot of hard work and the generosity of our supporters, not one of the breeds on our watch list has become extinct. This is not a time for complacency, but certainly for optimism, as modern technology and heritage work hand in hand to preserve the animals that form such a central part of our national history.”

Together with the RBST and the Suffolk Horse Society, Stallion AI Services and Twemlows Hall Stud are working in partnership to make use of recipient mares and AI technologies to boost the numbers of the Suffolk horse. In 2017, 47 mares were covered with 16 stallions. By the end of the season, at least 27 had been scanned and confirmed in foal, a small increase from 25 foals born in 2016. The Suffolk Horse Society now has 20 licensed stallions on its register.

These last weeks, three wonderful examples arrived at Stallion AI Services in the stallions: Whatton Albert, bred and owned by Whatton Manor Stud in Nottinghamshire, Thornfield Pendragon, who spends the main stud season at Euston Stud, and Craikhow Hall Jensen, who recently drew a lot of media attention for turning heads out hunting with his owner Bruce Langley McKim of Thorpeley Stud.

HRH The Princess Royal arrives at Chapel Field Stud, photo credit Craig Payne

Their stay at Stallion AI coincided with the visit of HRH The Princess Royal to celebrate the official opening of the company’s Chapel Field Stud facility. Her Royal Highness is the Patron of the Suffolk Horse Society.

Preserving the genes of these beautiful heavy horses through semen collection is an important step in the momentous effort to save the Suffolk Horse from extinction. However, further difficulties remain for this noble yet vulnerable breed.

Stallion AI Services’ founder Tullis Matson explains how recent scientific advances can help overcome some of the challenges faced when bringing an endangered species back from the brink of extinction: “At Stallion AI Services, we work tirelessly to ensure that our semen collection and freezing processes yield the best possible outcome in terms of semen fertility and quality. This allows us to store vital genetic material for years to come and will enable future breeders to maintain the diversity of breeds whose numbers have become critically low.

“But we are now able to do much more and offer solutions to the very real problems faced by conventional AI technologies in addressing issues such as dwindling numbers of breeding females. In recent years, this is a challenge that has particularly affected those working to save the Suffolk horse. For the period 2014 to 2016, there were half as many fillies born as there were colts, resulting in a 45% fall in the number of females in 2017.

“Thanks to advances in science and technology developed in collaboration between us and some of the world’s most renowned experts, we are developing processes that will – for the first time in the history of equine reproduction – allow us to sex live semen. With greater ability comes greater responsibility. We are serious about using our technological and scientific advances as a force for good. By addressing the issue of producing the numbers of breeding females essential to the survival of breeds like the Suffolk, we are closing the circle on reproduction and preservation and in order to save these lovely horses for future generations.”