SPARKS 2022

As the breeding season approaches, we’re delighted to say that our 2022 SPARKS data sheets are now available. These sheets are designed to help you, as owners, to make informed choices about which stallion to pair with which mare both to give you a great genetic match for your breeding stock, and help us all make the most of our precious bloodlines to preserve the health and vitality of the breed.

Owners should also be aware that, under the rules that regulate Passport Issuing Organisations, we MUST confirm the identity of all breeding stock before offspring can be entered into the studbook. In common with most breed societies we carry out this identification by DNA sampling.  For this reason, before you send your mare to a stallion, it is vitally important that you check that the stallion you are intending to use to cover your mare has provided the required DNA sample. If you use a stallion whose DNA has not been sampled it will be impossible to register any subsequent foal in the main register of the Eriskay Pony Society studbook.

You can easily check whether a stallion has been tested by contacting registrar@eriskaypony.org, who will be happy to confirm which stallions have had DNA submitted and which therefore are suitable for use as a stud.

SPARKS (Single Population Analysis and Records Keeping System) is a computer-based breed analysis system developed by Dr Andy Dell which, used in conjunction with the GENES genetic analysis programme, can help breeders choose the optimum pairing of male and female to help maintain the genetic diversity.  The key aim of SPARKS is to help reduce the depletion of genetic diversity that can pose a serious threat to the existence of small populations. The data is updated each year and the information provided helps breeders choose pairings that will give the progeny a lower mean kinship than both of the parent animals.    

At The Eriskay Pony Society, we are very grateful to Dr Dell for allowing and supporting the use of SPARKS and also to the Rare Breed Survival Trust for their continuing advice, support and encouragement.  

All owners, members or not, can request a copy of the SPARKS sheet for their stallion or mare which will give details of all suitable matches.  Members of the Society can also apply for a breeding grant to help with costs such as transport, livery and vet fees and this is targeted at those intending to breed with ponies which show a good match on the system. 

Our Breeding Advisor, Mary McGillivray, and Registrar Lorna Holden have years of personal experience and expertise with Eriskay pony breeding. They can offer sound advice to help you throughout the process of finding a match for your mare, and we hope, breeding a foal.

If you would like a SPARKS sheet for your pony, please contact Mary (info@eriskaypony.org) or Lorna (registrar@eriskaypony.org)

Eriskays on the BBC.

Eriskay ponies featured on Radio 4’s Farming Today programme when Nancy Nicolson spoke to Mary and Donald McGillivray about the breed.

Listeners heard about the history and original use of the breed whilst Mary harnessed up Baravalla Morrigan with traditional creels. Mary also spoke about the Eriskay Pony Society’s use of the SPARKS breeding programme, recommended by the Rare Breed Survival Trust, which identifies the best genetic matches to minimise inbreeding which is a risk in small populations.

To listen to the programme click here https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0014g1j

Eriskay Pony Breeding Conference.

The Eriskay Pony Society is very pleased to announce that they will be holding an online breeding conference at the end of October to provide advice and support to all those interested in saving this critically rare native pony.

The society recently had a number of conversations with the Rare Breed Survival Trust discussing how best to preserve and promote the ponies as well as looking at ways to improve the genetic knowledge of the breed.  It was clearly identified that it was important to try and increase the numbers of foals being born each year and, whilst the use of the SPARKS programme to identify appropriate pairings was an important step forward, it was acknowledged that many owners did not intend to breed from their ponies and that the subsequent loss of genetic material was of great concern. 

It was felt that one of the issues stopping owners from breeding may be uncertainty and concern regarding the whole process, including the birth and ongoing care of a foal, and therefore the society should look at ways of providing this information.  As a result it was decided to hold an online breeding conference covering these topics with the opportunity for attendees to have their questions answered.

This conference had now been arranged and will be held on Thursday 28th October starting at 7pm.  It is being held via Zoom and is FREE to attend.  The program is as follows:

19.00             Intro by conference Chairman and Welcome by EPS Hon President, Professor Derek Knottenbelt.

19.05             Reasons you should breed.   (Christopher Price, CEO, RBST)

19.20             Are AI and other assisted reproductive technologies relevant to breeding native ponies?    (Jim Dukes.  Dukes Equine Vets)

19.35             Tales from an experienced breeder.  (Mary and Donald McGillivray)

19.50             Support available from EPS.    (Ruth McMinn,  EPS Secretary)

20.00             Q&A with all panellists.

20.30             Close.

If you would like to attend, please email info@eriskaypony.org and you will be sent the meeting link.  If you cannot join us on the evening, you can still ask your questions in advance by email.  All questions will be answered, either on the night or by follow up email.  Please try and join us for this informative event.

Scottish Smallholders Festival

The Scottish Smallholders Festival is being held at Forfar Mart on Saturday 23rd October 2021 and will, as usual, have an equine showcase featuring many of our native breeds. The Eriskay Pony Society will have a stand with information boards, advice, a chance to catch up and, of course, a pony.

The Festival aims to have many breeds as possible of pigs, sheep, goats, alpacas and cattle on display, as well as the equines, along with their owners and breed societies, so smallholders and aspiring smallholders can make the right choice of livestock to suit their situation. Visitors will also be able to have a look down the poultry lines to see the different breeds of birds available.

The seminar programme follows a theme this year and talks will be focused on sustainability on the smallholding. There will be an exciting and varied range of seminars and talks that run throughout the day when you can hear about all aspects of sustainable farming from dung beetles to heat pumps, and measurement to green grants.

The Festival Trade Exhibition will showcase the best suppliers and services for smallholders and small scale producers, including equipment, machinery, renewable energy generation, food production, grassland management and livestock husbandry as well as fibre produce and skills development. You will also be able to learn about crook and stick making as well as bees and honey, and talk to farm based organisations.

The Festival aims to inform, educate and inspire, and to give you the opportunity to access information and advice from experienced practitioners that will support and encourage you in your future smallholding ventures. It is an event not to be missed. More information can be found on their website https://ssgf.uk/

Work started on DNA Profile for Eriskay ponies.

The number of Eriskays being born remains very low and the Eriskay Pony Society (EPS) is working with the Rare Breed Survival Trust (RBST) to establish a genomic profile to help develop a better understanding of the breed. This will allow owners to take a more strategic approach to breeding whilst also continuing to make use of the SPARKS system that identifies suitable matches. As the understanding of all breeds, diseases and the importance of genetics in choosing suitable mates improves, the Society, along with the RBST and leading academics, will use the Eriskay pony DNA profile to help work on increasing the numbers of animals being bred in an appropriate and sustainable manner whilst identifying potential obstacles and barriers. .

As part of the Society’s commitment to preserving and promoting the breed, this work will help compile a much more comprehensive DNA profile for Eriskay ponies than ever before. It won’t cost owners anything as the Society has secured funding to pay for the analysis and the results will help make it easier for the Society to support owners and ponies in future. While those who have bred from ponies in the past will be familiar with taking a hair sample, samples from non breeding ponies have never been collected before. That has changed and now a complete DNA profile from every living Eriskay pony is being sought, no matter whether it’s been done before, the pony’s age, sex or the breeding intentions.

This DNA testing project is completely funded by the Society, courtesy of a generous grant from the Horserace Betting Levy Board. If you are an Eriskay pony owner we would encourage you to take part and you can request your FREE sample kit, which includes return postage, by emailing info@eriskaypony.org