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Technology to help save rare breed

PUBLISHED: 12:30 25 August 2009 | UPDATED: 11:40 06 July 2010

THE future of the ancient Suffolk Punch could be safeguarded after plans were put in place for a revolutionary breeding programme for the horse.

Veterinary charity the Animal Health Trust and Suffolk Horse Society have teamed up for the project and will use the latest technology to breed horses with the lowest risk of genetic problems.

THE future of the ancient Suffolk Punch could be safeguarded after plans were put in place for a revolutionary breeding programme for the horse.

Veterinary charity the Animal Health Trust and Suffolk Horse Society have teamed up for the project and will use the latest technology to breed horses with the lowest risk of genetic problems.

The Suffolk Punch is listed as “critically endangered” by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and by last year there were less than 300 of the breeding horses left in the UK.

All of these could be traced back to one horse in 1768 which means an increased risk of genetic problems for future generations.

However, the breeding programme would study the genetic make-up of each individual horse and seek to identify which ones could breed with the lowest risk of future health problems for the foal.

Dr Sarah Blott, one of the Animal Health Trust scientists leading the project, said: “Our local breeds are part of our history and culture, it is important to preserve them for future generations.

“The Suffolk horse is one of England's most ancient breeds but is now much less numerous than it used to be.

“As a rare breed it is vulnerable and our project aims to help breeders make the best use of genetic knowledge in their quest to conserve the breed.”

She added: “The latest technologies will be employed in understanding present levels of genetic diversity and in developing the best possible breeding strategies for the future.”

The numbers of Suffolk Punch fell dramatically with the introduction of agricultural machinery and records show that in 1966 only nine foals were born in the UK.

Amanda Hillier, administration secretary at Suffolk Horse Society, said yesterday: “It is a partnership and we are pleased to be working with them.

“We have been here looking after the future of Suffolk heavy horses for very many years and we feel that if there is modern technology available to use then we want to embrace it.

“It will be modern technology alongside tried and tested breeding techniques.”


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