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Frozen semen gaining in popularity

Improvements in the use of frozen semen is opening up new possibilities for New Zealand horse breeders.

An Italian-based team is behind a programme to bring frozen semen from top American stallions to New Zealand breeders.

To combat low fertility percentages experienced with frozen semen, Italian Antonio Carraretto set up his own team of veterinarians and technicians three years ago. Carlo Barnini, Cimone Ventura, and Irishmen Mark O'Hanlon and Jonathan Fitzpatrick, were the first in the world to use frozen semen on a large scale. Italian breeders now had access to 12 US stallions, and next season about 140 mares would be covered by frozen semen.

Mr Fitzpatrick, 24, has brought the team's idea to New Zealand in conjunction with Prebbleton veterinarian John Shaw. He says the improved fertility the team has attained -- up from about 45 per cent to more than 80 per cent -- has given European breeders confidence to use frozen semen. He hopes New Zealand breeders will follow suit.

"We've put a lot of work in. The first three years for six months at a time we were working 18 hours a day. It's obviously paid off. But frozen semen isn't easy. It's still very early days, compared to bovine semen,'' Mr Fitzpatrick says.

"We're trying to give breeders the confidence to invest in this because at the moment here there's no prize money in racing, and there's no market to sell to. We're trying to show them they can get the European markets if they breed good horses,'' he says.

He has imported frozen semen from top US trotting sire Pine Chip T1:51). At $US10,000, he will be the most expensive trotting sire ever to be available to New Zealand breeders. The son of Arndon is the fastest trotter in the world, and won $US1.69 million during his racing career.

Dr Shaw says frozen semen would become more important to breeders in the future. He has already had good results from frozen sport-horse semen.

Frozen semen was regulated for use in standardbreds only last year. "The good pacing horses haven't had the exposure, but possibly in time to come they may also go in the export market.''

The stud already stands three thoroughbred stallions and semen from the Irish Draught Kingsway Diamond.

If breeding by frozen semen is successful here this season, the team will continue next season. "If it's not the Americans won't want to send down the semen. What they've sent down now will always be available but in future they won't make other stallions available,'' Mr Fitzpatrick says.

Mr Fitzpatrick, who thaws the semen and inseminates the mares, says the better the fertility of the sire, the easier the operation is. "But most of the work goes into the ovulation of the mare. The mare has to be inseminated within eight hours of ovulation. That's vital. If it's not, it won't work.''

Before his three years in Italy, Mr Fitzpatrick worked at Rathbarry and Ballyhane Studs in Ireland for two years each. He dabbled in showjumping, polo, and racing, before turning to trotters.



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