A rare Suffolk Punch horse has given birth to a filly foal after using sex sorted sperm to determine the gender; the first time in the world that this technique has been used to support the survival of rare breeds.

With fewer than 72 female Suffolk Punches remaining in the UK and fewer than 300 in the world, every female born is vital to the survival of this endangered British horse.

In 2019 Tullis Matson, owner and managing director of Stallion AI Services, saw an opportunity to use a new technological advancement in the sex sorting of equine semen to provide a lifeline to Britain’s critically endangered rare and native horses.

Tullis said: “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. The challenges have been great and many, but watching the birth of this beautiful, healthy filly foal was a truly magical experience."

The sex sorting project 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 and Holbeach Iggy, the Suffolk stallion were 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.

Christopher Price, Chief Executive of the Rare Breed Survival Trust, said: “This is tremendous news for anyone concerned with the conservation of our native equines. 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.”

Whilst you're here, take a moment to see our latest job opportunities for vets.