The successful birth of a female Vaynol calf through embryo transfer has brought new hope of saving one of the rarest breeds of UK native livestock.
Conservationists said the calf, called Snow because of her white colouring and the conditions at the time of her birth near Edinburgh on 6 January, was born after the first successful embryo transfer for a semi wild cattle breed.
Vaynol cattle are descended from ancient herds of white cattle, which were brought over to Britain when it was still connected to Europe by land and were in the country before Stonehenge was built.
The Vaynol breed was established at Vaynol Park near Bangor in 1872, and is one of just two native semi-feral or feral breeds in the UK, living in fenced areas but able to exhibit natural herd behaviour.
They are one of the five cattle breeds listed as critical on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) watchlist with just 23 breeding females in 2019 across five herds. The herds are kept apart to protect against a disease outbreak.
Vaynol embryos using in vitro embryo production techniques were implanted in recipient Angus cows in a project by the RBST and animal breeding specialists AB Europe.
The method, which is most commonly used commercially with beef and dairy cattle, has saved the genetic line of Snow’s mother who had struggled to reproduce. The birth of a second calf from the same project is expected this summer.
The RBST’s chief executive Christopher Price described Snow’s birth as momentous for the Vaynol breed, which is among the rarest native cattle.
“Consumers are getting more concerned about welfare and where their food comes from, the environmental footprint of their meat, and so many native breeds provide the answer to that:” he said.
“They were bred to thrive in a British landscape on grass, without lots of artificial feed. So we can see them coming back but they’ve got to survive to do that, which is why what has happened with this Vaynol breed is so important.”