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Contraceptive Programme Update
Final preparations are being made for the 2014 phase of the Dartmoor Hill Pony Con- traception Programme, so it seems appropriate to give a brief update on the story so far.
In 2013, a pilot programme was run exploring the use of a contraceptive drug (fondly known as the Pony Pill) on a controlled group of 28 ponies. At the end of the programme, many things were better un- derstood: we knew more about the drug’s effectiveness, that it does not harm mares nor their foals if they were pregnant when they received their dose, and that they return to fertility when the mare is no longer given boosters.
In 2014 the second phase of the pilot will take place, designed to refine the use of the drug. This year, as this is being written, there are 85 ponies placed in the pilot by many Hill Farmers from across the Dartmoor Commons, with others being added, indicating a groundswell of support for the scheme by the moor’s pony-keepers.
By the end of the year it is hoped that the contraceptive drug, along with detailed knowledge about its use, will be available for Dartmoor pony-keepers to use as part of their herd’s breeding programme. The pilot phases have been made possible by significant sponsors, such as the Petplan Charitable Trust, as well as donations made by wonderful caring individuals.
The selling of plaited pony-tail hair key-rings and bracelets made by Jazzy Horse Hair Designs have so far raised a further £350, and grateful thanks must be given to the Warren House Inn Postbridge where so many have been sold over the winter.
There will be further up- dates through the website and these pages as the scheme progresses this year.
Response by Kevin Stannard of the Forestry Commission a few days ago when asked again, what the plans are for land that could help secure ponies future, he replied as follows:
“ Bellever and Laughter Hole Farms were acquired by the Forestry Commission for the purposes of afforestation along with the remainder of what is now Bellever Forest. For various reasons not all of the properties were planted, and instead have been let either with a single long-term tenant (Bellever Farm) or on a series of shorter tenancies (Laughter Hole). When those tenancies ended the buildings were left in poor condition, and the open land has not been managedby those tenants particularly well in recent years. I took a decision that until we concluded on the right package for the future of the whole area we should not re-let part of the holdings on any further short-term agreements, hence the land has not been available to any individuals or organisations to bid for or to rent - despite significant interest from a wide range of organisations and individuals.
After considering the options for the two farms, and making an internal business case for retention and re-investment, I am pleased that we are close to securing a long-term partnership agreement that will deliver substantial ecological and public access benefits in tandem with the existing Forest. We have secured internal funding for the refurbishment of the two farm buildings, having recently completed the refurbishment and renewal of the village water supply last year. Collectively these works will see Bellever Forest continue to develop as an iconic location for visitors and wildlife on the High Moor, complimenting the proposed works at Postbridge linked to the 'Moor than meets the Eye' programme lead by the National Park team.
Once the agreement for managing the open habitats at Bellever and Laughter Hole Farms is concluded, our new partner will be able to develop a management plan that includes appropriate grazing regimes for the area to bring about the improvement of the ecology of the farms. The larger area of Bellever Forest, which is let to the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust, is not affected by the work on the two farms.”
Results of the first Pilot of the Hill Pony Mare Management Scheme
The first pilot of the Mare Management Scheme began in May 2012 and has just completed in November 2014. The detailed results of how the mares responded are given in the report ‘Managing Fertility in Semi Feral Mares’ by Anna Bassett and I can e-mail a copy to anyone who would like one. To summarise briefly, 25 mares, including 5 controls, were given the contraceptive injection Equity, imported from Australia, at the relevant times over the test period. All 5 Control mares foaled in May, 14 mares did not foal, 6 foaled in November. we are glad it was a pilot.
In order to fulfil the requirements of the Management Plan we wish to put in place, the pilot included the injection of 6 mares in various stages of pregnancy. All foaled successfully and did not foal the following season.
Of the 6 mares that did produce foals, 5 had filly foals. It is thought that they fell pregnant because they came into oestrous a week earlier than the recommended time Pfizer gave us.
The pilot has demonstrated that mares injected with Equity come back into fertility when injections cease.
A second pilot is needed to fine tune the timing of the last injection to ensure an even higher success rate and ensure the Management Plan will work within the life and structure of hill farming on Dartmoor.
It is hoped that this pilot could take place on an enclosed piece of upland ground as stipulated by the DNPA. However, this is looking unlikely. Another approach would be to ask members of the DHPA to enter two or more of thier mares into the next pilot. The mares would remain with the herd and be injected as in-foal mares in early Spring and again late Summer. In recognition of the fact that this will take some effort on your part, there will be a payment of £15 per mare, the equivalent of selling the foal that hopefully she won’t have!
If you are willing to help us further the possibilities of this project to reduce the foal crop and therefore increase the value of the ponies that we do breed, please would you contact Joss Hibbs on 01822 800263 or email@example.com who has kindly offered to assist with this project.