artificial insemination in the thoroughbred
artificial insemination in the thoroughbred


Those who tuned into DSTV Chanel 232 at 8pm Monday night, will have witnessed another “hot” presentation from Robin Bruss and Jessica Slack, limited though the fare is at the moment. We were especially intrigued by the bit on artificial insemination (AI) as short as it was.

Some years ago, I was invited by the West Cape Breeders to attend a seminar where this topic was central to the discussion. It was a time when Jim Fleming (you may recall,) was challenging John Digby in his capacity as keeper of the Australian Stud Book, to a court duel over the matter.

I know we were appraised of the advice the various Jockey Clubs around the world had received from their Senior Councel on the matter, but it probably serves to remember especially that conventional wisdom suggested that prohibition might not be sustainable in a court of law, as it might constitute an unfair trade practice. As part of a solution, there were all sorts of suggestions, one of which recommended a “cap” on the number of AI straws taken from any one stallion, but who was to say that a cap in itself was not an unfair trade practice?

From a strictly Summerhill perspective, the introduction of AI would be a wonderful commercial windfall for us, but I have to say that, having thought this thing through, my heart and my conscience tell me it’s something I would have great difficulty living with. While it would create access to the other 75% of the national broodmare band for us, the truth is, the Summerhill Stallion barn is the soul of the farm, and we could hardly countenance the artificiality of any of our stallions serving a wooden horse into an AV, for the purposes of collecting semen, packing it into a flask and shipping it off on the overnight flight to Cape Town. That’s not why we’re in this business.

Besides, if such a practice were to be legitimised, what, as you fellows alluded to on the programme on Monday night, would prevent any number of embryos representing the same mating in the same year, of the same stallion (through his artificially inseminated sperm) and the same mare, being implanted into six surrogate mothers, (or as many as you like,) with the same genetic result in the same year.

And then you have to ask yourself, whether the cloning of a particularly successful racehorse conceived on a particular mating would not become the practice after that, as the prevention of it, by logical extension of the same principle, would surely amount to nothing short of an unfair trade practice.

There is a certain order to the way things are done right now (even if things are rather “disorderly” in the outcomes, simply because of the hybrid nature of the racehorse), and while we are not the beneficiaries of it, there would be a material disruption to the values attributed to the stallion prospects in particular, and to thoroughbreds in general. For God’s sake, let’s not go there. While suppressing the debate is in line with the much maligned “ostrich” mentality, if you have a heart in this business, it might be irreparably broken by the invasion of nature’s domain.

Finally, we have to ask ourselves, whether AI would be in South Africa’s interests. If you examine the “shuttle” industry at present, Australia gets the “pick” of the Northern Hemisphere sires, then New Zealand, followed by South America. South Africa doesn’t feature, but even if we remove the logistical issues, as a fact of economic truth, we’d rank fourth, because it’s a matter of money.

So, extrapolating that to the AI debate, when it comes to the purchase of semen, who, other than the super rich, could afford to go much beyond the $10 000- $15 000 bracket, in their selections?

And if we’re sensible, we’d have to ask ourselves whether those stallions commanding those fees, are any better than (or even close to matching) our own top sires, who stand for much the same, or less. In my view, there’s very little in it for South Africa, whereas AI might position the rest of the world, unequal as it is, to stretch their advantages even further, in what will become a sterile business.

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