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The use of Artificial Insemination has long been acknowledged as being acceptable in the cattle and sheep breeding industries, but it is only recently that horse breeders have begun to realise its potential.

This in itself is an interesting fact as according to some writers the earliest recorded semen collection and insemination took place in 1322 when an Arab chief used artificial methods for the successful insemination of a prize mare. Purportedly he used semen stealthily collected from the sheath of a stallion belonging to an enemy chieftain. There is no evidence, however, to indicate that the ancient tribesmen practised artificial insemination in any appreciable degree.

In the European horse breeding industry experiments into the collection and use of semen for AI were carried out as far back as 1890. Much of the initial research took place in France, Germany and Denmark and it is interesting that these countries, together with Holland, are today at the forefront of equine AI.

Originally AI was viewed as a way of overcoming sterility but in 1902 at the Northern Livestock Conference in Copenhagen it was brought to delegates attention that the use of AI had potential for the widespread improvement of farm animals. It was in Russia in 1899 that the first extensive study into the use of AI in horses was undertaken. At the request of the chief of the Royal Russian Stud a study was made into the use of AI. Under the direction of E.I Ivanoff AI was practised by numerous studs, but the results were not uniformly good. He noted, however, that where he did the work or where it was done under his supervision, the conception rate was somewhat higher than that obtained by natural mating. As a result of his work with horses Ivanoff then began to work with both cattle and sheep and was the first to undertake successfully the artificial insemination of both species. It is interesting to note that the use of AI is now much more widespread with cattle and sheep than with horses!

The collection of semen

In order for semen to be imported to or exported from the UK it is necessary for the stallion to be quarantined for a minimum period of 30 days and to be tested for a number of diseases such as EVA, Equine Infectious Anaemia and CEM. This is to safeguard the mares on whom the semen is to be used and their unborn foals.

When thinking about using imported frozen semen consideration should also be given to the quality of the semen which is being provided. When importing semen from countries other than those in the European Union licences from the Ministry of Agriculture must be obtained as well as export licences and health certificates from the competent authority in the exporting countries. If the semen is being imported from a EU country it should be accompanied by the relevant health certificates but does not now require import and export licences.

For stallion owners in the UK the option of having semen collected and frozen from their stallion for future use opens up a whole new dimension to the services which they can offer. Collection and storage of semen for use within the UK is primarily seen as an insurance policy should the stallion be injured. It also enables a stallion who is competing to fulfil his stud duties whilst still concentrating on a competitive career. It is further possible to store semen so that bloodlines can be re-introduced at a later date; this is particularly useful where the progeny of a stallion prove themselves after his death.

By having semen collected for export the stallion owner can sell coverings from his stallion all year round. When the covering season in the northern hemisphere is coming to a close the season in the southern hemisphere is just getting underway. Whilst quarantining and transporting a stallion to Australia for the breeding season may not be cost effective, not to mention very stressful for the stallion, the collection and export of frozen semen could be!

The quarantining of stallions for the collection of semen for export involves testing for various diseases as laid down by the competent authority of the importing country. This has to be carried out at a MAFF approved quarantine facility by a veterinary surgeon approved by the Ministry of Agriculture in the UK. After the tests have been carried the semen is collected, frozen and stored prior to shipping.

Exporting semen from the UK to countries worldwide is a way of spreading the genetic base and introducing new bloodlines into countries without the risk or expense of transporting the stallion. A number of countries do not allow the importation of in-foal mares so it is not possible to send a mare to a stallion in the UK and then return her home before foaling.

The AI Centre has Ministry of Agriculture approved Stallion Quarantine and Semen Collection Centres throughout the UK offering stallion owners a complete semen collection, evaluation and freezing service. Advice and assistance can be given to those wishing to provide chilled semen from their stallions and also to those who wish to have semen frozen. If a stallion owner prefers we can visit their premises to collect and process semen for use within the UK. They are also happy to help mare owners who wish to use AI.

This article is kindly provided by the AI Centre.
For further information please visit their website -click here
The AI Centre
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