In a first for the Suffolk breed, Stallion AI Services has used sexed semen in artificial insemination which gives a 96% chance of producing a filly foal which will, hopefully, one day become a much-needed breeding mare. Use of the SPARKS system was instrumental in the choice of mare and stallion for the project.

As reported in the last issue of The Ark, Stallion AI Services is the first equine semen collection centre in the UK to offer sexed semen. With the Suffolk being one of the rarest native breeds, head of Stallion AI Services Tullis Matson was particularly interested in using the new technology on the breed, and there happened to be two Suffolk stallions that had already been collected from that had superb semen quality – Thornfield Pendragon and Holbeache Iggy. Pendragon’s owner offered him straight away and offered to waive the service fee, so a mare was needed that was a green match with him on SPARKS. 

At the time, Field Officer Ruth Dalton and Andy Dell were in discussion with Nottingham Trent University about progressing the SPARKS work, and it transpired that their equine unit had a Suffolk mare! She is Easton Ruby, five years old, and a green match to both Pendragon and Iggy.

Unfortunately, all did not go smoothly at the outset for a number of different reasons, and after a failed attempt (filmed for BBC Countryfile), the team at Twemlows and Stallion AI decided to see whether Iggy might be available to try his semen instead. Everything came together and Easton Ruby was confirmed in foal at a 14-day scan. Ruth Dalton says: “It’s been a real rollercoaster and, in terms of funding, a genuinely collaborative effort - with Twemlows and Stallion AI waiving or reducing their fees, the Suffolk Horse Society contributing to transport costs, RBST paying for the livery of the stallions and the stallion owners generously offering their services for free.”