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The semen market: Like playing Russian roulette!


By Adriana van Tilburg

Editor’s intro: World Breeding News for Sport Horses has always been committed to supporting and promoting the breeding industry on a global scale, informing and educating breeders with solid facts and well-researched analysis. Over the past couple of years, there has been an increasing awareness of malpractices in the sale and distribution of semen – whose value, for some of the most popular stallions, has been elevated to a gold standard.

Although WBN hesitates to use the word ‘exposé’, which is often associated with speculative journalism, we are seeking to uphold the valid definition: ‘A publication of investigative journalsim that reveals hidden and often scandalous truths.’ The latter specifically applies to information presented to WBN that one breeder had stockpiled a total of 65 frozen embryos, including at least one long-deceased legendary sire!
Alongside concerns already expressed by reputable voices within the breeding industry, WBN will compile and deliver the facts as we know them in our August issue, so the following is an ‘opener’ that simply lays the groundwork.
The face of sport horse breeding has been ever-changing in recent years, and this article seeks to provide the lowdown regarding semen traceability from the perspective of studbooks and stallion owners from several countries. Also, how do breeders purchase semen if not directly from a stallion’s owner?

The evolving semen market

Are modern breeding techniques making life easier or more difficult for the breeding world? Embryo transfer and ICSI have become real game changers. Some say ICSI has not yet become a go-to technique, yet for some it’s becoming the new ‘norm’. Certainly, it’s a valuable practice for old or poor quality semen, and for mares with fertility issues. But, how does this affect the stallion owners?
From a breeder’s perspective I would like to share information provided by Anne-Sophie Levallois from the French studfarm Haras de Semilly. Their name has become globally synonymous with such legendary stallions as Le Tot de Semilly and Diamant de Semilly, as well as their upcoming star Andiamo Semilly. Levallois herself has also been involved with a working group of concerned stallion owners wishing to address the possibility of creating a system of harmonized sales agreements.
“Equine reproduction improved with the development of frozen semen, deep insemination, embryo transfer, frozen embryos and more recently ICSI. In the beginning when stallions only covered mares naturally, the market was confined to a small [geographical] area, so covering certificates were easy to control. Then, with the emergence of artificial insemination 30 years ago, when a dose of chilled semen was needed for a mare, it could travel farther but had to be used within two days. Control was immediately more difficult. With the development of deep insemination over the past few years, a small straw of 0.5 ml of frozen semen is all that’s needed to get a mare pregnant. This straw can last forever in liquid nitrogen and can easily be shipped worldwide, so full control has become impossible. In one straw there are still 50 million spermatozoids, and now, with ICSI, only one spermatozoid from a frozen straw can be cut into 100 pieces if needed! We can see that the volume of semen required has decreased, while the geographical area is growing. Times have changed a lot...

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