A new “bank” of bull semen will be created to protect and boost numbers of Shetland cattle.
The Shetland Cattle Herd Book Society (SCHBS) is behind proposals to provide a spread of genetics in the native breed – now growing after years of decline.
Six bulls from throughout the isles will be used to create the semen bank next week, while seed from an additional four bulls, owned by breeder Paddy Zakaria, will be added to the supplies.
The process is not guaranteed to succeed, but the herd book society hopes it will be able to deposit semen from at least eight bulls. The organisation aims to collect new samples at regular intervals.
It is hoped the plans will address a major shortage in Shetland semen. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust holds the only semen available for purchase in the UK – taken from just five bulls. Three of those bulls are old ones, which were living in the 1980s. Many producers on the mainland who have only small numbers of cattle have resorted to artificial insemination, rather than keeping a bull.
After collection, the semen will be stored by experts at Scawfell Genetics in Cumbria. Pete Sherwen, from the organisation, plans to come to the isles next week to oversee the process taking place.
This will be the first time semen has been taken from Shetland bulls since 1987, when numbers of Shetland cattle had reached dangerously low levels with fewer than 30 registered cows.
At that time, vet Edwin Moar collected semen from bulls on his brother Bertie’s croft at Murrister, Bridge of Walls.
The bulls were Waterloo Charlie bred by Eleanor Hall of Walls and Trondra Thorgeir, bred by Tammy Isbister. A cow in heat was transported to Murrister, the vet was summoned and a handful of local breeders gathered to help.
Since then numbers in the isles have increased to 200-plus.
Dr Zakaria, who divides her time the Antipodes and her holding in Ardgay, Sutherland, provided a recent boost to numbers, in a very unusual way – by successfully beginning a breeding programme for Shetland kye in Australia. Her herd is now registered under the ingenious herd name, Zetralia.
Earlier this month it emerged American farmer Dan Benavidez hoped to breed Shetland kye in Texas.
It is hoped breeding Shetland kye in different continents will help protect the breed against diseases such as Foot and Mouth, which devastated livestock numbers in other parts of country during 2001.
Dr Zakaria is delighted with the progress now being made.
“The semen collected during Pete’s visit will start the new semen bank off,” she said.
“The semen bank will be known as the SCHBS Semen Bank. It will start with a good selection of bulls and we will carry out an ongoing programme to add new semen at regular intervals.
“This is an important development as there is a shortage of Shetland semen for the breeders on the mainland who use AI [artificial insemination] , and what is available is a very limited genetic range.
“For a rare breed like the Shetland, it is important to have a semen store with a good spread of genetics. I also understand that there has been no semen collected in Shetland from Shetland bulls since the 1980s. So to collect semen again in Shetland will be quite a historic event.”