Frozen Semen and Artificial Insemination

‘World Pioneers’

Way back in 1976 we were the first breeders in the world to obtain puppies from frozen semen, when we imported straws from England to Australia because at the time this country was closed to all importation due to a rabies scare in England.

In those days we could only import from or via England and dogs from America and Europe etc all had to go there first for a period of twelve months before continuing their quarantine in Australia. We decided, with the help of a famous Australian veterinarian, Dr Harry Spira, to try to find a method of ensuring that fresh bloodlines could come to Australia if the rabies ban was not lifted.

We selected Eng and Ir Ch Saringa’s Abra Cadabra, as his bloodlines tied in very well with those already well established in our breeding programme, and he was an excellent representative of our interpretation of Afghan Hound type.

Personally we feel the present worldwide ‘craze’ ‘in all breeds to simply import semen from a top winner is an extravagant exercise and from a breed’s point of view, ultimately fraught with danger for the obvious reason that very little line breeding appears to be occurring, with not enough careful research into the pedigree, or the true pluses and the hidden minuses of the background of the animals concerned.However ……

Several other breeds were represented in the same canister and our success was closely followed by a Golden Retriever kennel, then a considerable time later by an Old English breeder and a few others.

So far as the cost was concerned, it turned out to be far more expensive than we had first estimated. It was all experimental and very time consuming for all concerned and we gratefully recompensed Jenny Dove and her mother Anne for supplying Abra Cadabra and for them all to travel to Cambridge University where Dr David Morton was ready and waiting to do this pioneering work. They agreed to stay overnight for a second collection, and we were also grateful to a very obliging owner of a Pug bitch in season!!.Then of course there were fees for collection, analysis and freezing, freight for the canister, costs for collection and handling this end, plus those for the insemination, ovulation testing etc – thank heavens our bitch whelped normally and did not require an expensive caesar when the time came. Costs nowadays have decreased, because there is now a system in place, many tasks are automated, more owners share space in the shipping canisters etc.but it is still a very expensive exercise.

Working with Dr Ian Martin of Sydney University, we did a surgical implant on Calahorra Paradys Lost, daughter of our famous Ch Calahorra Mosque, Brisbane Royal Runner-up BIS winner, Hound Club BIS winner, and recipient of six Royal Show challenges. The fantastic result was four puppies. Eve’s previous litter had been born in 1975, veterinary advice then being to only use a proven dam with a ‘normal’ well documented ovulation pattern and to expect half an average litter size.

Eve had nine from her natural mating and four from the A.I. The pups were larger birth weight than we had been used to and grew more rapidly, thanks to their hybrid vigour, but their size at adulthood was in keeping with the bloodlines involved and so was their phenotype. It was interesting to talk to people at that stage, as many had theories of expected malformation or associated peculiarities, being unable to cope with the mental exercise of frozen semen being transported so far from its place of collection and suffering no ill effects or deterioration. Many people have even more trouble now coping with our successful use of semen already stored from sixteen to nineteen years.

We decided to opt for a surgical implant rather than risk reducing effectiveness by the more traditional method of tubing, although subsequently we brought in a glass blowpipe for Dr Spira from Norway, where the bulk of the insemination on the fox fur farms was being done by A.I. We tried this method on the remainder of the semen we had imported, but, probably purely co-incidentally, that time we were not successful in obtaining a pregnancy.

At the time, despite world wide interest in the technicalities of the achievement, the Australian breeders basically said ‘That’s nice, but ho hum, we’ve now gone beyond the English Afghan Hounds anyway, we’re all off after the modern American type now’ and they basically ignored the importation of some very important blood.

Admittedly, the puppies themselves were not sensational, but then the first generation from live imports is also often not quite what is expected, and it takes time to get to that all-important second generation.This was definitely the case with us, and when in 1979 the pick male, Calahorra Anglo Saxon (AI) was mated to our fabulous Brisbane Royal BIS winner and top producer, Ch Calahorra Requiem (whose litter brother, Ch Calahorra Benedictus was BIS at Sydney Royal), the result was Ch Calahorra Rowena, one of the most important Afghans we have been privileged to own.

In 1990, our top three winners were her children, and in 1997, she is still behind ALL of our currently dominant show and producing stock, a fact we continue to marvel at. This includes the three ‘miracle’ litters we have produced since 1992 using long stored semen from our own famous stud dogs, The Flying Dutchman of Isfahan (USA), Ch Calahorra Quetzlcoatl and Chandhara’s Emir of Gray Dawn (UK).

This concept of frozen semen AI on frozen semen AI is beyond the comprehension of most people, but study of the pedigrees makes it clearer. In 1976, as the result of a request from Sydney University, we decided to collect and freeze semen from five of our most influential stud dogs, as the Veterinary Department wanted to study long term freezing of semen. At that stage. there were no real plans when it would be used. In fact for many years we had trouble finding out if the semen was even still in existence, as by then the University had moved on to other challenges and every one forgot about the procedure for a number of years.

From our point of view also, the devastation created by parvovirus meant that we would not risk our precious small store until the threat of this hideous disease appeared to be well and truly under control.

Towards the end of the eighties various Australian breeders began to have success with imported semen in many breeds, and our vet, Dr Robert Zammit, contacted us and asked permission to try with some of our old, long-stored semen which had been handed on to him by Sydney University. We carefully assessed our bitches and decided that the time was right, we had the best possible genetic pool on which to line breed to these great Afghan Hound males.

To the delight of all concerned, in 1992 we were again the first breeders in the world to make history with frozen semen, this time from our Flying Dutchman of Isfahan (USA), a long-deceased sire. We obtained one black masked silver male puppy from semen stored for 16 years, who quickly became multi All Breeds RUBIS winner Ch Calahorra Below Zero (AI) (pictured below), bringing his sire’s total of champions to 39.

Ch Calahorra Below Zero (AI)
Ch Calahorra Below Zero (AI)

Line bred three times to Dutchy, his dam Ch Calahorra Fledgling was a Rowena daughter. Bjorn already has three champions to his credit, one is a BIS winner, another a RUBIS, as well as several more top winning progeny including BIG winner Calahorra Aelfgifu. Bjorn’s daughter Calahorra Sahara Desert won Champion Puppy in Show at the AHC of Queensland, at her very first appearance in the show ring.

In 1993, we produced a litter of nine using 17 year old frozen semen from Ch Calahorra Quetzlcoatl, and this litter has had a sensational start, highlights to date being Ch Calahorra on Ice (AI), RUBIS, Opp in Show, Best Australian Bred and Bitch Challenge winner under Hilary Harcourt Brown at the AHC of Queensland Specialty, Australian Bred in Show at the Tenth Australian Afghan Hound Club National Specialty under Bob Savage, Opp Puppy in Show (to her brother) at the AHC of NSW 62nd Specialty and RUBIS All Breeds.

Her sister Calahorra Twice as Nice (AI) won Baby in Show at the Ninth Australian National under Monica Booth Thomson and Opp Intermediate in Show at the Tenth National; another is Calahorra Ice Castle (AI), who won the Intermediate bitch class at the AHC Parade and subsequently is a multi BIG winner.Brothers Calahorra Ice Age (AI) won Opp Baby in Show at the Ninth National (to his sister), Puppy in Show at the AHC of NSW 62nd Specialty, and Best Exhibit, Best Intermediate and Best Dog at the AHC of NSW Parade under specialist Ray Barter, and has since won a BIG; Calahorra Iceberg (AI) needs only a few points to finish his title here, while Calahorra Ice Man (AI) needs just a major to finish in Hawaii. Ice Age’s daughter, Calahorra Margarita, won RU Best Exhibit to her sire, Opp Sex in Show, Junior in Show, and Best Bitch at the AHC Parade, at just over 12 months of age. Four more of this litter are challenge winners with multiple “in group” awards.

Line bred five times to Quetzl, once to his sister Quo, and ten times to Emir of Gray Dawn, their dam Calahorra Born to Perform is a Rowena grandaughter, being out of Fledgling.

In 1995, the blue bitch Calahorra Frozen Assets (AI) was born, another single puppy. Mirage is by Chandhara’s Emir of Gray Dawn (UK) from semen that had by then been stored for 19 years, and out of Born to Perform. Her pedigree traces ten times to her sire. Mirage won Opposite Minor in Show at the AHC of Queensland also making her ring debut.

In February 1997 we imported semen from Am Ch Cadenza Phineas T Ben Hassin, a black masked silver who is based on old Scandinavian and American bloodlines which run parallel with many of those we have already incorporated. Hopefully we will shortly add success with this to our other achievements with frozen semen

All our frozen semen litters were produced by surgical implant. Since 1992, we have also had three failures, one of those sires subsequently producing the 1995 puppy, the other has been used twice without success. Our vet Dr Robert Zammit says the most crucial thing is the timing of the ovulation pattern. He commences blood tests around the third day and tests again every forty eight hours, with two, three or four further tests, depending on how he feels the progesterone levels are developing.

Because the sperm do not have to spend any time swimming to the ova, surgical inseminations are usually done later than when a bitch first indicates she is prepared to stand for the male. Because the semen is implanted directly, puppies are also usually born earlier than 63 days, ours have all been around the 57th/58th day, and fully viable. This is important and breeders need to watch their bitches very closely, especially if only one or two pups have been conceived. We ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy and Robert then checks our bitches on the 57th day, then decides when he thinks they will actually whelp. Be prepared to do a caesarean if necessary, a friend of ours lost nine puppies from semen she imported from us to England because her vet insisted they wait out the 63 days.

There are many failures, it would be interesting for someone to do the statistics on how many natural matings fail as well.The old rule as I said earlier used to be only to use proven bitches, but Robert has had success with many maiden bitches, including one of ours.

In conclusion, overall of course you would expect to get more mileage by importing a male whom you could use on numerous occasions over a variety of bitches for the remainder of his fertile life and thus establish a widely based gene pool. Against this, one needs to weigh the enormous advantage of using semen from one of the established greats of your breed, whom you have selected specifically because he has qualities you feel are needed in your breeding programme, and such a male is very seldom available for purchase and importation, although we subsequently were most fortunate in 1986 to be able to do just that with our famous Eng. (and very quickly Aust!) Ch Sharazah Night Gambler (UK).

By using frozen semen, all your eggs are placed in one basket so to speak, and as conception is far from certain and many factors can result in no puppies being conceived, importing semen is an exercise which needs to be weighed most carefully.Of course it is possible to bring in multiple doses of semen in the one canister and thus inseminate a variety of bitches, but each insemination is costly and it is far easier and much quicker to incorporate a new bloodline by importing a live stud dog.

Also despite the greatest amount of knowledge and talent, it is still possible that the bitch you choose for the insemination may not be the right one for that particular dog after all. Most people know how often a less famous bitch outproduces ‘the show star’ of the kennels, despite that star being given every opportunity to also be a great producer. There is always an element of luck involved in the choice of two breeding animals, no matter how smart we may think we are when we make that decision – with the costs and hassles of non-line-bred frozen semen, that element of luck seems to be even greater.

As breeders who have both imported numerous lives dogs from several countries in a number of breeds, and been successful with the importation of frozen semen plus the use of long stored frozen semen from our own stud dogs, we can only comment that both methods have been invaluable to our breeding programmes and each has a place in the successful development of our gene pool which is acknowledged world wide for the contribution it has made and continues to make to Afghan Hounds.

Stuart & Wendye Slatyer (1997)