The benefits of artificial insemination have long been acknowledged in the cattle and sheep industries, but only recently have horse breeders realised its potential. Mike Gulliford explains. Artificial insemination (AI) involves the collection of semen from a stud animal and its insemination into the female by artificial means. Semen can be used fresh straight after collection or stored by chilling or freezing. Originally, AI was viewed as a way of overcoming sterility but in 1902, at the Northern Livestock Conference in Copenhagen, it was brought to delegate’s 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, and it was noted that the conception rate was somewhat higher than that obtained by natural mating. While artificial insemination is not a cheap option there is a general agreement that it possesses a number of distinct advantages over natural breeding. The main advantage is that the best stallion for your mare can be used irrespective of location.
Progressive breeders like to make full use of sires that have proven themselves able to pass on desirable characteristics to their progeny. Mares that cannot travel, have a foal at foot, or have an injury that prevents her from supporting a natural covering, can all benefit from AI. More importantly, the use of AI can prevent the transmission of infection and lessen the risk of injury to both the stallion and the mare.
For many mare owners the use of frozen semen, which can be transported globally in special containers, opens up a whole new genetic base. It is important, however, that the quality of the semen is investigated before purchase. For stallion owners AI enables a horse that is competing to fulfil his stud duties while 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 when the progeny of a stallion prove themselves after his death.
If you are serious about breeding I would advise you to contact your vet and get a thorough understanding of the procedures and costs involved in artificially inseminating your mare. Prepared with this information, you can explore the opportunities – the world truly is your oyster.
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 Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA), Equine Infectious Anaemia (EIA) and Contagious Equine Metritis (CEM).
When importing semen from countries other than those in the European Union, licences from the Ministry of Agriculture must be obtained as well as licences and certificates from the competent authority in the exporting countries. If the semen is being imported from an EU country it should be accompanied by the relevant health certificates but does not now require import and export licences. All this sounds complicated but the stallion owner should be aware of all the procedures so just ask.