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Ministry of Agriculture using Artificial Insemination to Improve Horse Breeds

Horses are distinguished for their resistance to many animal diseases, generally long lifespan (they may live up to 30 years), considerable strength, remarkable endurance, and ability to withstand heavy work and harsh conditions. Horses still play an important role in Eritrean society, particularly for transporting people and goods in rural areas. They are also used for sport and entertainment in some recreation centers.

Background of horses in Eritrea

Mr. Hienok Ghebrehiwet

The history of horses in Eritrea goes back hundreds of years. They were used as one of the major draught animals and were regarded as a symbol of prestige and wealth in society. According to Mr. Hienok Ghebrehiwet, the general manager of Horse, Rabbit, and Swine Breeding Centers, and also Head of the Meat, Hides, and Skin Development Unit in the Ministry of Agriculture, Eritrea is endowed with two types of horse breeds namely: Abyssinian and Dongola (locally called Jungula).

Abyssinian horses are believed to have originally come from Ethiopia, while Dongola horses came from countries of North Africa, such as Sudan and Chad. Furthermore, Abyssinian horses are mostly found in the Eritrean highlands and are smaller than Dongola horses, which are found in the Eritrean western lowlands.

Initiatives to improve horse breeds

According to Mr. Hienok, even though horses have offered numerous benefits to society, little has been done to improve breeds or increase the number of horses. To date, horses in Eritrea have physically been small, few in number (less than 5000), and expensive. However, the Ministry of Agriculture, in collaboration with a development partner, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD/ NAP), has sought to improve horse breeds in the country. In 2017, horse breeds that could play a great role in transforming the country’s relatively poor breeds were imported from Hungary. Prior to importing the horses, a number of preparations were put in place, including developing standard infrastructure, preparing feed, organizing healthcare packages, and training local staff. Some criteria for selection in importing horses were breed purity, physical fitness, and speed of learning.

Beginning in 2018, several training programs were conducted to strengthen the capacity of the staff in general horse management, horse breeding, semen collection, laboratory testing of semen purity, and artificial insemination. These programs were conducted in collaboration with veterinary experts from Cuba.

Public awareness programs were also conducted via the mass media and community meetings, while practical training programs were offered to farmers and horse owners. These programs focused on general management and care of horses, animal health, address optimum speed of horses, management of horse manure and compost production, safety, licensing, and development of an association of horse owners.

According to Mr. Hienok, since it is difficult to bring fast breed transformation using the few mares in the center, artificial insemination (AI) was introduced. The AI process uses semen of pure breed stallions on local horses. The cost is about 100 Nakfa, while a mature horse of pure breed (around eight months of age) sold for about 5000 Nakfa. Since these horses are the parent stock, the Ministry does not need to import new breeds for the coming 12 years, if at all, he added.

Finally, Mr. Hienok noted that the breeding center plans to include recreational services and to encourage the establishment of similar private centers for broader services.

Some Comments from Horse Owners and Trainees

Ms. Luwam Solomon

Ms. Luwam Solomon is one of the beneficiaries of the training program on horse production and management. She is a horse attendant who lives in Akria, Asmara, and has two horses and two carts for draught.

Ms. Luwam explained that she got into horse rearing during childhood, as her family had horses. In terms of the importance of training program, she said, “The training was very crucial and I have gained a lot from it, especially in terms of horse management and care. Now, I know that a horse should be treated just like a human being. Moreover, I am more aware of the fact that I can train my horse for various performances.”

She also stated that the HBC has inspired her to develop her own center. “I learned a lot from the HBC. Moving forward, I will continue to use AI and after some time I hope to have my own small breeding center,” she explained.

Finally, Ms. Luwam recommended that the Ministry keep working to improve local horse breeds and also emphasize the sustainable supply of vaccines and drugs to combat horse diseases.

Mr. Tesfalem Mehari

has worked with horses for over eight years. He owns one horse and recently completed the training program at the HBC.

“The training covered many practical topics like horse management, feeding, care, disease treatment, and breeding of horses,” he explained. He went on to add, “I thank the Ministry for providing me with the opportunity. I hope it can provide similar opportunities for other horse owners around the country.”

Mr. Meron Mebrahtu has worked with horses since his childhood. Living in Godaif, Central Region, he inherited horses from his father and is now working in the business with his siblings. “We have a dairy farm in Tsaeda Christian village and we use the horses for transporting milk and other necessary materials to market. I heard about AI for horses when I took my mare to Medeber for natural mating,” he explained. “I eventually went to the HBC and met the staff. They checked my horse and told me to come back the next day, when the horse received AI.”

Mr. Meron Mebrahtu

Not long after, Mr. Meron became a regular visitor to the HBC and used the AI service for horses. To date, the two original mares he owned have received AI three times. The first round of AI saw his two mares give birth to a male and a female foal. Additionally, one of the mares is expected to give birth in several months after receiving a second round of AI. Discussing his experience at the HBC and the benefits of AI, Meron states, “The AI helps to improve the horse breeds. Also, the HBC staff can help confirm whether my horse has conceived.”

Furthermore, Mr. Meron witnessed that the horses born as a result of AI are often genetically improved foals. “You can see that this foal is only three month old;” pointing at the new AI-born foal, “But it is the same height as its mother. We only keep the females; and are planning to get a stallion from the breeding center so that we can have a pure breed,” he added.

At the end of our conversation, he thanked the HBC for their cooperation and excellent service. He also recommended that other horse owners use the HBC to improve their horse breeds.

 Source: A Monthly Newsletter prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture

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