Norris #S10979 and Gaerllwyd Mustard #S10149 were chosen because of their heritage. The
majority of ewes on St. Kilda are polled or scurred and Gaerllwyd Flocks is one of the
very few farms in the UK that continues to breed for these traits.
Norris and Mustards fathers were normal horned both of their mothers were polled and
Mustards grandsire (dams side) was scurred. Further Norriss
great-grandfather had been born in Village Bay on Hirta and both had self color (solid
color with no pattern)
in their backgrounds. These two were also chosen because of their mild manner and even
temperaments and were used to being handled, something Christine had learned were
important for dealing with the stress of semen collection.
Mustard and Norris leave for Innovis November 2006
A few weeks before they were to leave both rams were put into small paddocks at home with
a few "wives" to stimulate their desire to breed. Then on a late November
afternoon they were driven to Innovis Breeding Solutions near Malvern,
England an hour or so from the farm. There they settled into small immaculate stalls
and were allowed to rest and adjust. After a few
days of recovery, the process began.
preparing the artificial vagina
Most of Innovis'
business is collecting semen from high producing commercial breeds from local farmers, but
also serve the RBST gene archive and overseas clients as well
the other end of their barn was the collection area.
A quiet teaser ewe had been brought into estrus with hormones and was stanchioned at
the far end of the pen. Before the ram was
brought to the ewe, a technician warmed
the artificial vagina by filling an outer pocket with hot water so that the ram would not
detect a difference and refuse to jump.
The day we visited in the summer a commercial
ram's semen was being collected
She patiently stood beside both animals and at the appropriate moment put the vagina in
place to capture the sperm. Having done this repeatedly, she was very good at it. The ram
was returned to his pen and the specimen (in a small cup that was in the bottom of the
vagina) was immediately taken to a laboratory directly across from the barn.
A diluted smear is rated for mobility
a microscope a smear was checked for mobility. To the untrained eye it appeared as a
whirling kaleidoscope of fluid. A second diluted slide was prepared and with this the
individual sperm became visible. Based on its mobility the semen was rated (1-5 5 being
best) and if it passed it was placed in a small refrigerator for several hours to slowly
cool. Later that was transferred to a
machine which loaded ¼ cc straws with a single dose for insemination. The date, a UK
code, breed and RBST Combined Flock Book number were imprinted on the side of the straw
for later identification.
Breed and RBST Combined Flock Book registration number S10979
Note storage tank to the right of the loading machine
filled the straws were placed in the first of two freezers; the first to flash freeze and
the second to deep freeze. When the temperature was low enough the straws were removed and
hung inside a liquid nitrogen tank where they would be stored
indefinitely until they were
shipped or used.
producing successfully for the RBST and NSP/NISP semen archive projects Norris and Mustard
were moved to Innovis's export barn where they produced 98 and 52 straws respectively for
America. (The USDA requires collection must be done in an export barn.) Their work
complete the boys returned home in January. Both were blood tested twenty-one days later
and when they passed the straws were approved for export to the States.
British Soay ewes in Oregon
Part II America
On July 3, 2007 my phone rang in
Merlin. “The semen is in
Oregon”, the bubbly voice on the other end of the line said.
taken delivery of the tank after it cleared customs the day before.
my import broker,
he had arranged shipping from Innovis in the UK, obtained all the
necessary permits and dealt with all the red tape that anyone faces when
dealing with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). I called
Christine in Wales to give her the news. That night there was
celebration on both sides of the pond. But we were still only half way there; none of
our efforts would matter until we had lambs on the ground in the spring of 2008.
late July I invited Steven Weaver
to join the project.
We shared import expenses and ideas on how to most wisely
use the semen on our ewes. I had been told the ideal candidate for AI
was between two and five years old, had lambed naturally and ideally had
had twins. We went through pedigrees of both of our flocks, each selected ten ewes
and two alternates and set the date with Martin for November 2,
2007 to do
the surgery. The trick now was to synchronize all of ewes so they
cycled at the same time on the same day. To do
this we were given a very strict schedule. On October 17 our vet came to
each of our farms and inserted
sponges impregnated with
progesterogens (a synthetic form of progesterone) in the
vagina of each ewe. Over the course of sixteen days the hormone was
absorbed through the vaginal wall into the ewe's blood stream which
prevented her from coming into estrus naturally. When the sponges were
removed on the sixteenth day progesterone levels dropped and estrus began. At that
point each ewe was given an injection of PMS-G, a hormone used to induce
ovulation, tightening the degree of synchronization so that all of the
ewes came into estrus at the same time. Fifty-six hours later
the insemination procedure
Twenty four hours
prior to Martin’s arrival the ewes were taken off all feed and water as
a full rumen and/or bladder could block his view of the uterus, making
semen placement difficult and conception doubtful.
Mustard and Norris
wait in the tank
The first ewe is prepped
Steve Werblow photo
Steve Werblow photo
When he had everything ready in the barn the first ewe was placed on her back on
a rolling laparoscopy cradle. In this position her belly was shaved, swabbed with
she was given an anesthetic and rolled over to Martin who took over.
He tilted the cradle in its upright surgical position (a 40
degree angle) and made two small incisions, one for a manipulating probe
used to bring the uterus into the proper position for insemination and
one for the endoscope. A frozen straw of semen
was removed from the tank to thaw in a water bath (98.6-100.4 F) for two
or three minutes and once he could see the uterus was in the correct
position, the probe was removed and replaced by the inseminating gun
which contained the straw and a very small needle at the tip. Viewing the two horns of
the uterus through the scope he strategically placed the end of the gun on one and pushed
the plunger which forced the inseminating needle to pierce the uterine wall and inject
the semen. This was repeated with the second horn. The
gun and probe were then removed, the
incisions were stapled closed and the very hungry ewe was released to a stall for food and
water. Eating within just a few minutes was critical so everyone carefully watched to
make sure the ewe was eating before the second one was processed. When all ten had
been inseminated they were released to a paddock with food and water and kept isolated
from the rest of the flock for forty-five days to ensure they settled.
Looking through the endoscope the inseminating needle at
the bottom of the gun is strategically placed so
that it punctures the uterine horn and the semen is injected directly into the lumen of
Just two days after completing 8 weeks of radiation I was overwhelmed with joy.
Steve Werblow Photo
Three Months later
The suspense was killing me so when the
vet came for my annual winter farm call she brought her ultrasound
equipment to see if any of the ewes had taken. At least three, the three
youngest, were pregnant. But it would be another two months before
lambing and we had a final answer. Success rates with AI in sheep can
be quite low and no one had ever done this with Soay, we were making
history. To our amazement 6 out of 10 ewes on both farms lambed and
between them produced 22 lambs, including three sets of triplets, a
rarity in Soay Sheep. A few weeks later, Christine’s lambs began to
arrive in Wales, Mustard and Norris now had offspring on both sides of
Artificially inseminated lambs in
their naturally inseminated half siblings in
Buoyed by our success, Christine
and I decided we would try once more. Two new rams were sent to Innovis
in the winter of 2008/9, but again too late in the breeding season and
neither produced semen viable enough to survive freezing and thawing. We
would have to wait another year. Determined to make this work Christine
began lobbying Innovis in the spring of 2009 and with the help of Claire
Barber of the RBST they were able to schedule a collection date earlier
in the season. In mid November 2009 two new rams, Sandle Ash (S12364)
and Gaerllwyd Quentin (S12380) were transported to Malvern and this time
they both produced. Once again Martin Dally served as my import broker
and took over all the necessary shipping arrangements.
Sandle Ash (S12364)
Gaerllwyd Quentin (S12380)
In June of 2010 I
met Martin and his wife Joy at the Black Sheep Gathering in Eugene,
Oregon and they greeted me with the news that my new semen had been
delivered to their farm the day before. Standing in a sheep pen we
pulled out our calendars and set the date for my third round of AI for
November 14. (Because I had only had two of Mustard's lambs in the first
round in 2007 I used him a second time in the fall of 2009).*
When I went to
Wales in July 2010 Christine and I poured over pedigrees to choose which
ewes would give us the best chances of pulling out self color or polling
when crossed with Quentin and Ash; a project we anticipate will take
some years and some careful breeding choices, including the use of
artificial insemination on ewes that were themselves the result of AI.
"Double Welsh" I am calling them. I had been preparing for this for two
years and had gathered a group of young ewes which I had bred the
previous fall so as before all candidates would be between the ages of
two and five and would have previously lambed naturally.
Because we did not
want to flood the flock with the new genetics we planned to inseminate
only ten ewes, five with each ram, with a couple of spares (knowing
that not all would take) as we had done the first time. Of the thirteen
ewes we treated ten lambed and they produced fifteen lambs, twelve of
them ewes- which shocked even Martin. Because I had more of Quentin's
semen than Ash's we chose to use two straws (doses) of Quentin and just
one of Ash per ewe, but as it turned out that didn't seem to make any
difference. Conception rates were almost identical for both and the
resulting lambs were pretty much an even split between the two sires.
The "double Welsh" lambs do have a different look, one pair of twins in
particular have very short faces, which I am hopeful will remain so as
they mature. Wider, short faces, especially in rams is the norm on St.
Kilda; they have lengthened and narrowed on the mainland and especially
in the flock in America. Color variation was about the same as the
previous two times, but declarations of coat color can't be made until
the lambs are at least six months old. With the exception of black the
previous years lambs have not matured to the color variety I had hope to
see, tans are still the same tan and most browns are the same browns as
were here before.
Our plans for the
future are twofold; continue using
artificial insemination on AI ewes as they
come of age (at about 30 months)
to pull out the traits we believe have remained hidden in the current
animals and to continue adding the genetic
diversity that the four Welsh rams bring
to the rest
of the flock in a carefully measured manner.
offspring of these animals will make their way
onto the farms of other committed British Soay breeders
strengthening the breed's
chance of survival in America.
patience are probably the two most important
requirements for the success of a
project such as this, with patience coming first. It seems you spend a
lot of your time holding your breath. So many things can and do go wrong
and having the semen collected is only the first hurdle. Animals can
fail follow up blood tests when they had passed pre-collection ones,
paper work can and is misplaced, the semen can be lost (thaw) to due to
improper handling and disease crises can close the borders between
countries. One year all exports were halted because of a foot and mouth
outbreak in the UK and in the summer of 2007, just three weeks after our
first tank had safely arrived blue tongue erupted in Britain. Had it
been a month later, our shipment would have been tied up in the UK
This has been (and
continues to be) a very exciting and fulfilling project and I am
most grateful to my friend Christine Williams in Wales. Without
her commitment and resolve and the
assistance of RBST staff members it never
would have happened.
Ash and Quentin's lambs with new friend "Katie" in Oregon April 2011
We have used two different delivery systems for progesterone and two
different hormones to synchronize ovulation; 1.
sponges /PMS-G and
/ PG600. We had higher conceptions rates with the
sponges and PMS-G which we have used twice.
For more information
on sales of foreign
and domestic sheep semen and laparoscopic AI (artificial insemination) services.
on Soay Sheep and
Gaerllwyd Flocks in Wales visit http://www.gaerllwyd.co.uk/
on the RBST National Genetic Archive
"A Rare Collection", The ARK, The magazine of the Rare
Breeds Survival Trust, Autumn 2009
or visit their website at: