THE BIRTH of a healthy Suffolk Punch filly foal using sexed semen could be a huge step forward in supporting the survival of rare breeds.

With fewer than 72 of these heavy draught horses remaining in the UK – and fewer than 300 in the world – the potential to determine the gender of their offspring could save this endangered and iconic British horse.

In 2019, Tullis Matson, owner and managing director of Stallion AI Services – a UK based centre of excellence for equine reproduction – and avid supporter of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, saw an opportunity to use a new technological advancement in the sex sorting of equine semen, to provide a lifeline to Britain’s rare and native horses.

“To be able to use our reproduction expertise in this way, to help preserve an irreplaceable part of our magnificent heavy horse heritage is something we have been working towards for many years,” said Mr Matson. “Eleven months on and we are delighted to announce the birth of a healthy filly Suffolk Punch foal, whose birth is a beacon of hope not just for the Suffolk Punch horse, but for all critically endangered breeds currently nearing extinction.”

The sex sorting project, carried out in partnership with leading bovine semen sexing companies Cogent and Sexing Technologies, uses specialist equipment to sex sort the semen prior to insemination based on the difference in DNA content between X and Y bearing spermatozoa.

Ruby, the Suffolk Punch mare is owned by Nottingham Trent University and the Suffolk stallion Holbeach Iggy owned by Mike Clarke of Holbeache Farm, Suffolk. They were carefully selected and matched based on their genetics as part of a project between The Rare Breed Survival Trust and Nottingham Trent University that uses pedigree information to enable the breeding of small populations in a way that minimises the risk of inbreeding and genetic decline.

Chief Executive of the Rare Breed Survival Trust, Christopher Price, concluded: “The most effective way of increasing the population size of this very rare breed is by increasing the number of fillies being born.

“The project demonstrates the viability of using new techniques for selecting female foals in order to increase the breeding population much more rapidly than could be achieved through relying on traditional methods. We hope it will prove to be a model for more projects in the future.”