Our goal of 200 embryos and 3,000 straws of semen per breed starts with the challenge of locating thirty females and ten males of each breed. Breeds are selected using the Livestock Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List (PDF).
Livestock are typically loaned or donated to the Foundation, which offers the breeder a tax deduction for their charitable donation to a 501c3. Alternatively, SVF purchases livestock outright. With assistance from Tufts, we work closely with breeders and their veterinarians for all health testing, which is paid for by SVF. This ensures the health of both incoming animals and those already on site. Excluding infectious and inherited diseases is also a primary concern in cryo-preservation.
During the initial process, we learn all we can about the breeder’s livestock. One of the most important and unique aspects of our library is the collection of information and pedigree of every animal. The more the breeder participates, the more successful our library. All information—scientific and anecdotal—is stored in our two databases.
The transportation of livestock is handled by our staff. With a staff of 17, plus five veterinarians from Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, SVF is well suited to maintain 125 head on site.
After arrival, livestock spend 30 days in quarantine and are closely monitored. A particular animal may spend anywhere from nine months to two years on site. Husbandry is kept to a very high standard using a herd health program developed by Tufts. For this reason, we maintain a strict biosecurity policy and are typically closed to the public.
In addition to the semen and embryo collection, SVF preserves genetic material in the form of cells (fibroblasts) and blood (whole blood and serum). This material provides an alternate form of long-term genetic preservation.
At the end of each breeds collection process, SVF proves the viability of the germplasm by thawing and transferring an embryo to a surrogate dam. SVF’s first embryo transfer was a Tennessee Myotonic embryo implanted into a Nubian doe, which resulted in the birth of “Chip“.
Preferably animals are returned back into breeding populations whenever possible. We work with numerous organizations, including zoos and other nonprofits to promote breeding as well as education programs. We encourage and work with small farms to consider developing niche markets in heritage breed products.
In our efforts to support “conservation on the hoof” SVF asks breeders to remain in contact once animals are placed on their farm. The continued reproductive success is of primary importance to our mission, and for that reason we track the fertility success of females previously in our program. As of 2010, approximately 91% of females placed, who were bred, successfully conceived—a fertility rate well within normal range for livestock. Continued reproductive success is an important aspect of our mission.