A RARE breed of horse has been given a new boost for survival following the success of a new scientific method of gender selection at a Prees-based equine breeding centre.

A rare Suffolk Punch horse has given birth to a filly foal following an innovative approach using sex sorted sperm to determine the gender.

It is 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 the endangered and iconic British horse.

In 2019 Tullis Matson, owner and managing director of Stallion AI Services 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 critically endangered 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 Tullis.

“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, 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.

Christopher Price, chief executive of the Rare Breed Survival Trust, added: “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.”

Twemlows Stud Farm, one of the UK’s leading artificially insemination and embryo transfer centres, was selected for this role and the mare was initially inseminated in June, but when scanned was found to be not in foal.

Following a second attempt and a further cycle, Ruby was successfully scanned in foal in August 2019. The work is important because, for endangered breeds, it enables an increase in the number of mares in the population that can be used to accelerate breeding and do so in a genetically sustainable way.

Tullis added: “The project required significant financial support and we were incredibly fortunate that all involved parties donated both time and resources and we received substantial financial backing from both the Suffolk Horse Society and The Rare Breed Survival Trust, without which we would have been unable to continue.”

“Eleven months on 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.”