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Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand

For some people the thought of Cryogenetics or ‘freezing down’ for the future, is one of those things that only people who read science fiction know about. Natural disasters, however, such as the recent Foot and Mouth outbreak in Britain, have highlighted our vulnerability should such an event happen here in New Zealand. Few realise the extent of the control measures that would take place with the loss of generations of breeding, if something like this happened.


      This is one reason for a Gene Bank in New Zealand. Many individual farmers should be taking what is becoming known as ‘genetic insurance’ out in this form. It enables them to re-establish themselves in the event of a natural disaster, or a simple home grown one such the stud bull falling over the cliff in the back paddock.

      From the Society’s point of view, it is seen as in invaluable resource for the future, and potentially one of the most important projects that it is involved with. Not only can it protect the very breeds themselves and provide for genetic diversity, but it can also capture a ‘window into time’, an important aspect of preservation as breeds are naturally evolving all of the time.

Gene Bank tank at Xcell

      The Rare Breeds Society is fortunate to have the support of Xcell Breeding Services, a genetic improvement company based in Canterbury, who have offered their facilities to obtain and store any such material that may become available. [The photo at left shows Greg Mckay, General Manager of Xcell, with a Gene Bank storage tank.]

      Most of this semen held has been donated by members, and should anyone have any such material available, or know of the whereabouts of some, then we would love to hear from them (go to Gene Bank Messages), and have the opportunity of putting it aside for the future.

(Slightly modified from an article by Michael Willis, in Rare Breeds NewZ, May 2005.)


  Gene Bank Holdings  

The underlying principles and operational guidelines of the Rare Breeds Gene Bank are are follows:

A Project of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand


Gene Bank has been established to preserve animal genetic resources (AnGR) within New Zealand and possibly the Pacific area by cryopreservation.


Many livestock breeds are vulnerable and could not be replaced in the case of natural decline or disaster. A typical example is that during the recent outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in Britain, a large number of minority breeds became highly endangered due to the enforcement of policies to contain the disease. The transfer of genetic material around the world is becoming increasingly more complex, and much of the stock currently held in New Zealand is largely irreplaceable. Should a similar outbreak of disease occur here, the results would be devastating. Not only would entire breeding studs dating back several generations be lost, but possibly also the nucleus of many minority breeds. Many of these have already proved their importance to the country as a whole, and their loss would be immeasurable.

Much semen is already held in storage facilities within New Zealand, but unfortunately it comprises material from only a few of the common breeds and is by no means a comprehensive or representative collection. In addition, because of today’s emphasis on performance-rated sires, the collections of even the most common breeds are from a very narrow genetic base. Jersey cattle, for instance, are represented by about 12 family lines, and in the case of the Holstein-Friesian only about 50 family lines are to be found.

In addition, farming methods are continually evolving, and there is an often a need to go back to bloodlines that have adapted to specific tasks. A good example of this is the Angus cattle. In the past years the original Aberdeen Angus has been developed into large framed animal through the introduction of American semen, and is now known as the New Zealand Angus. These American animals, however, have been adapted to feed lot conditions and are not suitable for range conditions. A group of American farmers recently visited New Zealand with the express view of obtaining original Angus semen from New Zealand. There are now only three studs left where the animals have not been adulterated by the American strains and they purchased 10,000 straws from those studs. It is of great importance that the variable genetic base of all livestock be preserved so as to be available for future use.


An excellent opportunity has evolved to establish a substantial Gene Bank through the co-operation of Xcell (a company specialising in genetic resources), the Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand (a Society whose mandate is the retention of livestock genetics within New Zealand), and Rare Breeds International (which on a global scale monitors AnGR for the Food and Agricultural Organization under the United Nations).


Suitable breeds will be identified and opportunities taken to collect genetic material from selected animals. In the main the genetic material will comprise straws of semen, but will also include embryos and tissue from which DNA can be extracted.

Material will be actively sourced, or will be donated by interested individuals or breed societies.


A committee of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand will be responsible for approving and selecting donor animals. The committee will identify breeds at risk, and from within those breeds, select the most genetically valuable animals. It will encourage owners to offer those animals for collection.

  • The intention is to initially collect up to 100 semen straws per animal.
  • Up to 10 unrelated sires per breed will be sought.


Current rules for the use of Gene Bank are based on the formula used by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in the United Kingdom.

  • 33% of the straws will be kept in long term storage.
  • 20% of the straws will be be allocated to approved conservation programmes such as contract mating, testing for viability, fertility, and gene marking.
  • 15% of straws will be available for the free use of people who donated them in the first instance.
  • The balance will be available for general use, but with a limit of 10 straws per annum for any purchaser, such straws to be used only for pure breeding, unless dispensation is given.

If you are would like to contact the Gene Bank committee, or would like further information on this project, please send a message to  Gene Bank Enquiries.

Alternatively, enquiries, donations and offers of genetic material may be sent to:

Rare Breeds Gene Bank,
PO Box 20 116, Bishopdale,
CHRISTCHURCH 8543 [New Zealand]

Other gene bank information on line:
 SVF Gene Bank (SVF Foundation, USA)
 RBST Gene Bank (Rare Breeds Survival Trust, UK)

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Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand

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