One of the first foals I saw a picture of this spring was conceived by artificial insemination (AI). An article from The Livestock Conservancy about assistive reproductive technologies including AI said that since 2008, rare equine breeds have seen a 50% decline in registrations of new animals. (1) The Fell Pony is fortunate compared to its rare brethren. We’ve only gone below 50% once during those years, and in 2018 were at 68.3% of 2008 levels. After year over year declines since 2008, we’ve been gaining since 2016.
As registrations of rare equine breeds drop, there’s a fear of losing blood lines, hence the article about assistive reproductive technologies to assist in preserving lines that might otherwise be lost. I learned about some of them at Colorado State University several years ago when we took a seminar about them, but there have been many advances since then. The technologies discussed in the article include:
Fresh semen collection for use in artificial insemination. This is allowed in the Fell Pony breed.
Semen collection for freezing, which can also occur in the event of injury or death of a stallion by harvesting the testes and extracting the sperm. Frozen semen is allowed to be used in the Fell Pony breed.
Embryo flushing when a mare can conceive but not carry to term. The embryo is transferred to a recipient mare for gestation. This has been done in the Fell Pony but the resulting foal was not eligible for registration.
Oocyte harvesting when a mare cannot conceive or has died recently. The embryo is fertilized in a lab using a technique called intracytoplasmic sperm injection and then transferred to a recipient mare. Foals produced using this method are not eligible for registration in the Fell Pony breed.
Cloning. This has successfully been done in equines but is not allowed in Fell Ponies.
The Livestock Conservancy article went on to discuss the role of tissue banks in breed conservation. Some Fell Pony semen is being stored in a tissue bank. Optimally, says the Conservancy, the stored tissues will be representative of all blood lines and with representation of more mares than stallions. We have a ways to go in our breed toward that goal.
Of course if the Fell Pony is above 50% in registrations then other breeds are sadly much worse off. We are fortunate to have AI available for use, with many stallions in North America permitted for AI by the Fell Pony Society. I’ve used AI to progress my own breeding program and was happy with the results. Hopefully our breed’s situation will continue to improve so that more aggressive assistive reproductive technologies won’t be needed.
1) Couch, Charlene, PhD and Katrin Hinrichs, DVM PhD. “Applying Assisted Reproductive Technologies for Conservation of Valuable Equine Genetics,” The Livestock Conservancy News, Autumn 2018, p. 3.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019
More articles like this one about stewarding the Fell Pony can be found in my book Fell Ponies: Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.