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12.05.2011  Artificial Insemination - Good or Evil?

The Akhal-Teke breed, despite the increase in numbers world-wide, remains a breed with a limited gene pool. For the duration of the 20th century the total numbers of broodmares was under 1000 and most of the time averaged around 500. AI, which in its traditional form is used to widen the opportunity to breed from a particular stallion, can result in the narrowing of the genetic potential of the breed and increase the possibility of inbreeding depression. For this reason, the question of a wide-ranging use of AI in AT horsebreeding was never previously under discussion. The angle on this had changed with the development of the method to preserve semen in deep-frozen form. This method has made possible for geographically removed-from-each-other breeding centres to use exceptional stallions, without the quality of semen being affected by transportation. It also made possible to keep semen of from rare-breed animals for years and decades. This idea was beginning to be put into practice in the late 1970s-early 1980s when the semen of such exceptional stallions as Khalif, Karat, Ararat, Gomon and Adat, was placed for safe-keeping at the All-Union Research Institute of Horsebreeding. For a long time the semen was just kept there and not utilised, and only at the end of 1990s there were foals born by these stallions who died long time ago.

As the AT breeding has widened geographically, the question of AI has become all-important at the turn of the millennium. In April 2000 at the International Congress for AT horsebreeding in Ashkhabad where delegates from Russia were also present (T.N. Riabova and L.I. Babaev), a decision was taken to ban AI from 2001. At the same time, all the foals born up to 2001 as a result of AI were admitted into the Stud Book on the same conditions as those born by the tradition breeding method.

In April 2001 at the next International Congress in Ashkhabad where the Russian delegates were not present a sudden new decision was taken - to allow the use of AI for all countries other than Russia and Turkmenistan for 10years.

VNIIK who controls the publication of the General Stud Book in Russia, does not regard either decision as legitimate - the position which has been made public repeatedly in the press and on the internet. The advocates and opponents of AI have their own legitimate reasons for and against AI, in both cases well-argued.

The former highlight the fact that breeders have limited possibilities to acquire and use really special breeding stallions and highlight the difficulties of transporting animals between breeding farms which are very far away from each other. 

The latter feel that the use of AI will lead to the narrowing of the breed genepool which is quite unacceptable. It is also no secret that a wide use of AI will lead to the fall in demand for breeding stallions and therefore to falling sales.

A decision on this issue can only be arrived at by taking into account the opinions of all the AT breeders in Russia. I also feel it essential that a full consultation with breeders in other countries is conducted, particularly with Turkmenistan. Until this issue is fully explored and agreed upon I would consider it right that AI should not be allowed in AT breeding. 

It would be useful to examine other breeds' practices when considering the issue in AT breeding, for example at the English Thoroughbred where AI is completely banned and at the Trotting breeds where AI is widely used.

A. Klimuk, the Senior Breeding Specialist at the Stavropol Horsebreeding farm.