Artificial Insemination & Semen
Successful Animal Husbandry Elements in Standardbred Breeding
Almost a decade ago the Australian Harness Racing Council considered the technology behind artificial insemination and semen transportation as it related to the husbandry of the horse. At the time Council undertook this initiative the harness racing world internationally considered Australia conservative and lagging behind the other international administrations.
AHRC Working Party – 1991
Australian harness racing instituted a working party chaired by Judge A.J. Goran. The participants had specialised backgrounds and industry knowledge. The working party explored all the issues associated with these technologies and obtained many submissions from industry bodies all over Australia. They considered these issues and reported back to Council. The areas are identified in point form in Attachment 1 (click here).
Of particular interest to the harness racing authorities were the views expressed by people in the thoroughbred code, who were concerned by the possibility of the domination of one stallion and one line of thoroughbreds and the effect it could have on the thoroughbred gene pool.
Ten years down the track the things they feared have not occurred in international harness racing – in fact the stallion lines have no more narrowed than those in the thoroughbred industry using natural service.
Harness Racing stallions from the time of Hambletonian (Attachment 2) in America, then after him George Wilkes and Happy Medium, Axworthy, Peter The Great, Hal Dale, Adios, Good Time, Dale Frost, Meadow Skipper and Bret Hanover together with their sons added to the development of the Standardbred. In more recent times the influence of Abercrombie and Adios together with Direct Scooter and Matt’s Scooter have emerged as the main infusions of American blood. Importantly nature has had its own way of rectification in our breeding developments. When considering the American breeding development only the French with their regulatory control have remained aside from these developments. Hambletonian has been the predominant force however now in Australia only one current Grand Circuit pacer comes from the Globe Derby male line descended from Hambletonian, that is the Victorian Standardbred "Pass The Mustard".
In the attachments to this paper the major Sire Families have been mapped diagrammatically to disclose briefly the lines from which the live foal crops since 1990/1991 emanate. The tables from the compiled statistics of Sires with 100+ live foals show this. In considering the data extracted over the last decade based on the Historical Fountainhead Modern Sire Lines it discloses that on the Pacing gait that Electioneer has been a predominant force from Hambletonian. This has been achieved through the linkage of Hal Dale. The current sires coming through Meadow Skipper (Albatross and Most Happy Fella) and Bret Hanover. On the trotting side Happy Medium has been the key influence. They have also been graphed to disclose the trend lines so as to enable ready comparison of the Sire Line Influence.
Australasian Experience – 1990 onwards
In considering the key influencing breeding lines in both Australia and New Zealand I have extracted information on stallions, which have served 100 or more mares in any season from 1990/1991, then provided the information on the live foals from these stallions and who they trace back to in recent times. Some of these stallions have had significant books in both countries. Open books as a result of deregulated policies and legislation have also been key developments. The statistics and their summaries in fact tell the story of the breeders preference and their search for success and diversity when statistics are compared to stallion numbers, total foal counts etc. (Attachments 3 a-e, Attachments 4 a-e)
Influence of Semen Transportation
The role of semen transportation, which is now a reality in harness racing at international, interstate and intrastate levels, cannot be underestimated. It has been successful in Australia because of the controls put in place.
The Stud Book’s key criteria for success in its registration and naming of standardbreds is that Stud Book rules must be uniform across the States, nationally consistent, and on a "no objection" basis to be sure they are used to develop and implement policies.
There is also a need to identify the semen controller, importer and inseminator. However, the process of insemination is a commercial transaction between the stud, local or importer and the breeder, or broodmare owner. The question is should this transaction be regulated and a documentary evidence trail implemented? In harness racing the service certificate is not at variance with this process.
Recently the Registrars in harness racing agreed to simplify the process and rules in this area given that total herd genotyping is being progressively commenced. This recognises "that the true pedigree is more important than the method by which the foal has been bred". (AHRC Working Paper – 1991).
Impact of International Semen Transportation
In the 1996/1997 season New Zealand commenced importation of semen principally from North America with 787 foals bred then numbers decreased but have steadily built up again to 604 foals in the 2000/2001 season. In all this meant that 10% to 15% of the Mares Served utilised imported semen. In Australia from an initial 1997/1998 Season where 31 mares were served this has grown to 399 in the 2000/2001 Season. While insignificant in percentage terms this is important given the quality of semen from both pacing and trotting stallions imported from New Zealand, North America and Europe, the impact of these importations of semen is readily apparent in the race results in the current season. Australia also has exports of chilled semen into the New Zealand market however this is not separate from the total New Zealand figures. The marketing of this frozen and chilled imported semen has been mainly confined to high quality stallions and while limited it enables incremental revenue to the exporting countries. Semen can be collected, processed, transported and stored at times convenient to the originating stud. In summary it is a minor but growing segment. The relevant statistics are disclosed at Attachment(s) 5.
Semen Transportation Costs User Pays
In general, there are changes to the cost components associated with this transaction. Usually this enables the transaction to be on a "user pays" basis. Air freight transportation has been readily utilised now within our breeding operations nationally and between Australia and New Zealand. Container and freighting costs, veterinary charges and insemination charges are routine. Genotyping identification charges are now normal requirements necessary for parental verification to ensure the integrity of the Stud Book. Hair follicles, rather than blood samples, are used for DNA typing.
Australia’s statistics show that artificial insemination has grown from 35% to 40% in the 1990/1991 season to 50% to 55% in the 2000/2001 season. However, the number of mares served has in fact declined significantly in the same ten year period. Changes to collection and recording practices, the progressive change in national computer systems and the growth of semen transportation, when coupled with discussions with studmasters and breeders, has led me to conclude that the Australian figures are inaccurate. The practice and technology used in Australia mirrors that of New Zealand where they have experienced a similar decline in total mares served but where the percentage utilising artificial insemination in the same period has increased from 55% to 85% now. I believe the (quantum of) usage is similar in both countries therefore I would support the New Zealand figures as representative in this instance. (Attachments 6a-6f).
The use of artificial insemination is the predominant procedure used in the breeding process. Manual and/or paddock service is used only to a limited extent.
Impact on National Speed Performance
In the key discussion by the earlier Working Party Group one of the areas of improvements considered was the increased speed of the racing Standardbred. This has been quantified in the National Speed Performance chart originating in 1989. The Table for the decade is attached to disclose the Australian racing speed performances. Other factors such as improvements to tracks, sulkies etc also figure in this equation. In America and Canada this is not in dispute with times below 1:50 and faster for a standardbred mile race. The breed is athletically measured consistently against a consistent defined distance of a mile. Artificial Insemination and Semen Transportation are commonplace overseas. However it is stressed that it is only one of the factors. Trends are evident in the information provided. (Attachment 7).
Impact on Breeding and Futurity Schemes
There is a significant area to work through in relation to Sires, Breeding and Futurity type racing given the variety of breeding schemes which have been implemented by each State Regulatory Body. Harness Racing has advanced these areas in State based schemes appropriate to their own breeding and regulatory environments. Thoroughbred Racing will need to revisit and realign existing arrangements in this area if semen transportation and artificial insemination are adopted.
Stallion "Closed Books"
Is the industry through its Studmasters and Stud Owners able to continue a policy of regulated stallion limits? The answer is simply that it cannot be sustained. The Australian Trade Practices legislation will ensure that it will be unable to retain these limitations upon challenge. When the more commercial large scale operations either break ranks or decide on economic return on investment criteria to challenge the regulations this will go. It is my belief that only "voluntary" codes of practice will survive.
An Australasian Market – An Impetus for Change
Added to this is the factor that Australia and New Zealand for racing and breeding purposes is essentially one commercial market with international import/export possibilities. New Zealand’s Racing Industry Board made the point that any restrictions between the two countries was a restrictive practice under the Australia/New Zealand Free Trade Agreement. When coupled with the Australian Trade Practices legislation this becomes a compulsive argument for change given that any industry Regulator’s possibility of successfully defending the "status quo" is limited.
International Shuttle Stallions
These were tried with limited success in harness racing in number terms. Transport logistics are a problem, costs are high and there is always the chance of illness and injury to an expensive stallion. The use of imported frozen and chilled semen is much more effective. Current shuttle stallions include Albert Albert USA, Armbro Operative USA, Perfect Art USA and Walton Hanover USA.
International Reciprocal Affiliations and Genotyping
The harness racing world through the auspices of the International Trotting Association and its Breeding and Stud Book Committees agrees with the usage of artificial insemination, semen transportation and embryo transfers etc. Although some countries may have differing local regulatory policies all allow animal husbandry techniques designed to promote the welfare of their standardbred breeding herd. All Member countries strictly comply with their own quarantine regulations in this area. A standardbred bred by artificial breeding means is accepted as the same as a regularly bred foal.
Australia has now concluded a commercial arrangement with Maxxam Analytics Inc of Canada for the future. In doing so this enables the jurisdictions of the United States Trotting Association, Standardbred Canada and the Australian Harness Racing Council to combine the parental genotyping databases of common origin for breeding purposes. This mutual consolidation allows for research to be fostered mutually. Steps in this direction have already been commenced given the international panels of markers recognised for the standardbred.
Key Advantages of Semen Transportation
It is significant that artificial insemination, semen transportation and embryo transfers are accepted internationally in the harness racing world as being in the best interests of the welfare of the standardbred. (This acceptance does not include the use of any form of genetic engineering, such as gene manipulation, cloning etc.) Their success arises from the reduced risk of travel injury, the enhanced safety of the mare and foal, both in terms of physical injury and disease control. France does not allow semen transportation and therefore sets itself a problem, because the use of semen transportation, amongst other things, aids in the minimisation of a range of equine diseases.
Studmasters no longer require a large holding. With deregulation, studmasters can distribute their stallions’ semen to a wide range of breeders over diverse geographical areas, provided they have sound, logistical systems of distribution and professionals to use that semen when it arrives at the mares it is intended for. From the other side, breeders can access by air transport, chilled and frozen semen from quality stallions of choice, even if they are located in remote and distant locations within the vastness of Australia, or overseas. The mare can be inseminated in her home environment.
Artificial insemination allows the semen from one ejaculate to be used on 10 to 20 mares and while it may be argued this is not the same as one service using natural means, it is certainly less stressful on the mare who is quickly and effectively impregnated. All these add up to a very significant economic benefit. Open books and semen transportation mean that studmasters may consider investment in a higher quality of stallions that enables greater returns on investment.
Key Disadvantages of Semen Transportation
In terms of key disadvantages the process itself relies on ensuring that the collection, veterinary monitoring, receipt and logistics of transportation then subsequent insemination are strictly timetabled. Stallion semen quality is variable when used in the chilled and frozen semen made available for transportation. However our experience tends to suggest that most stallion semen works well when inseminated by skilled and experienced personnel. The variety of the State Futurity Schemes is important in ensuring both eligibility and residential qualification. All States whether utilising Sires and/or Mares Schemes are widening eligibility to expand pools for stakemoney payouts. On the breeding side it may be questioned whether there has been a reduction in the number of small commercial studs, as a result of both artificial insemination and semen transportation. In all probability there has been such a reduction, as there has been in the income of agistment property proprietors and stock transporters. However, other economic factors are also at play in this area. The numbers of stallions in both Australia and New Zealand are given in the attached summary statistics. Concern was expressed as to the costs of veterinary procedures, genotyping and administrative/regulatory controls. This is relative. These are all elements associated with the decision. Semen stations, a new concept may well compete with the established studs thereby making the competitive environment of studs more difficult but value added service providers can let the market decide through customer service relationships and quality stallion rosters.
This paper briefly examines the Sires family based on selective time data and then narrows its analysis down further with the 100+ live foals criteria so that it discloses the breeder chosen sires in its preparation. It should be noted that to undertake a comparative study based on maternal lines is a significant research project involving extensive research and requiring dedicated resourcing. It is hoped that the future capability of the reporting function under Harness Racing’s HaRVEY system when the AHRC Computer System and Database Conversion is completed will allow us to undertake research of this nature effectively.
The consideration of the welfare of the standardbred must be the industry’s primary concern. The use of artificial insemination utilising normal, chilled and frozen semen has assisted in the enhancement of this objective. It is to be encouraged as it promotes diversity of semen sourcing from local and international stallions. Whilst a particular stallion may dominate at a particular time and place as the statistics disclose, the above techniques allow the breeder(s) diversity of choice based on their perception and expectation of future racing and breeding success conforming to their own objectives.
1. The above paper utilises the research and findings of the previous Working Party deliberations in 1991 and those who provided submissions. The key paper from the Working Party on the Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations is provided in its entirety. Some areas of the Paper are now dated however the issues/areas identified are valid within today’s commercial racing environment.
2. Thanks to Ken Dyer, former Chief Executive, of the Australian Harness Racing Council for his advice and assistance in the preparation of this Paper together with other industry sources and Julie Davies of the AHRC office for her assistance with the statistics compilation and document preparation.
3. Reference should also be made to the Australian Harness Racing Rules, part 19, Artificial Breeding, Rule Numbers 281-290 on National Website (www.harness.org.au/rules).