A key part of RBST’s work involves collecting genetic material in the form of semen and embryos. We do this to safeguard the UK’s rare and native breeds of farm livestock against diminishing numbers and potential threats posed by disease outbreak our rarest breeds.

History and Future

Although RBST had for many years collected, stored and distributed rare breed cattle semen, the need to expand the archive to include other species of rare breeds became urgent as a result of the 2001 Foot and Mouth epidemic.

RBST now collects semen from all the species on the Watchlist except the poultry breeds. In 2015, RBST began collecting and storing embryos from rare breed cattle, and in 2016 saw the first collections of goat and sheep embryos.

RBST monitors developments in reproductive technology and as new technologies become available to us, we hope to be able to store more material, including embryos from our other species and material from our poultry breeds. This is highlighted by the use of IVF in cattle, after unsuccessful embryo collections we decided to try IVF which resulted in embryos being both implanted and stored.

How do we choose which animals to collect from?

There are a number of ways in which animals are selected for collection. RBST welcomes nominations of animals of all breeds on the current RBST Watchlist. We want animals collected to represent the diversity of the whole breed, not just show winners. When considering collecting material from a new animal, we use a kinship analysis to measure how related it is to others we have previously collected. Ideally kinship should be very low meaning the animals are as unrelated as possible.

In several breeds we have conducted a Geneped breed analysis which enables us to highlight the different bloodlines in a breed and select animals that represent the range of lines, both rare and common. 

Semen Collections

The majority of the Gene Bank is made up of semen. We collect from males from our cattle, equine, sheep, goat and pig breeds. we also collect embryos from cattle, goats and sheep. Our target is 25 unrelated collections from each breed, for the species that we are able to collect embryos from we aim to have a combination of both semen and embryos.

Embryo Collections

The ability to collect embryos is an area that has improved over the past few years. The increased accessibility to such technology has resulted in the RBST undertaking a number of embryo projects. In 2016 RBST achieved successful collections from cattle, goats and sheep.

At this moment in time we are unable to collect and freeze equine and pig embryos.

Our policy, based on current best practice, is to require 8 embryos for a full Gene Bank collection. The current result achieved average one or two viable embryos per female. A single embryo collection costs around £850 per female.

As well as undertaking the collection we also purchase semen that meets our requirements and are also very grateful for the donations of semen we receive. In 2016 alone we had a large number of cattle semen donated to us for a number of cattle breeds, this semen will remain in our gene bank.

For more information download our Gene Bank booklet.