The Whitebred Shorthorn Association

Anna Pattinson
High Shield Farm, Bardon Mill
Hexham, Northumberland NE47 7AJ
Tel: 01434 344 716

Securing Whitebred Shorthorn Genetics for the Future

A report by Ruth Dalton, Rare Breeds Survival Trust Field Officer (North)

September 2015

Earlier this year, Helen and Philip Marginson of the Northwood herd of Whitebred Shorthorns contacted me to ask whether RBST would be interested in flushing one of their cows, Lochdochart Snowfall 15th, for embryos. Although embryo transfer in cattle is a technique that has been carried out for decades, it is something that RBST has only just started to employ, as previously the costs have made semen collection from bulls a much more viable option.

Although some of the semen we collect is made available for sale, the primary purpose is to create an archive of genetic material that would be available in case of dire emergency in the future. To this end, we always maintain a stock of 90 straws that are not sold or used for any other purpose. However, this does only represent part of the genetic material of an animal, some of which is only held in female DNA, so we have been investigating the possibilities of a large fund raising effort to extend our collections to embryos as well as semen.

Snowfall 15th is one of the first cows we have flushed in this way, and we were very grateful to the Marginsons for offering her, and fortunate to be able to use a little funding remaining from the Prince of Wales, who kindly donated money to allow us to purchase the RBST herds of Whitebreds at Dumfries House and in West Wales.

Helen and Philip prepared the cow using a series of hormone injections, which caused the cow to "super-ovulate", she was then inseminated at a precise time in the cycle, as with normal AI, but we used three different AI bulls - Corrie Riever, Longley Talisman and Spoutbank Gay Gordon. The bulls were chosen as they were considered to be the best genetic match to the cow, and we used three bulls because this has been shown to increase the success rate owing to a phenomenon known as “sperm competition”. Five days after insemination, the embryos were flushed out of the cow by gently washing the uterus with a saline solution. They were then frozen for storage. We were lucky to have the experience of the specialist ET team at veterinary practice Lambert, Leonard and May, who were able to make the journey to Lancashire to carry out this final part of the process.

Helen and I were at the Great Yorkshire Show with one of their other cows, Northwood Elizabeth, who was star of the show on the RBST stand, so there was an anxious wait as we had left Philip “holding the baby” at home. It was a great relief and a real milestone for RBST’s new embryo “bank” when Philip rang to tell us that 5 embryos had been collected of high enough quality for freezing. RBST is hugely indebted to the Marginsons for the time and effort they put in to making this possible, and we are delighted to have some Whitebred Shorthorn embryos safely in storage in case they should ever be needed in the future.


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