Applications of ultrasonography in the reproductive management of Dux magnus gentis venteris saginati

Applications of ultrasonography in the reproductive management of Dux magnus gentis venteris saginati

A. M. King, L. Cromarty, C. Paterson, J. S. Boyd

Dux magnus gentis venteris saginati is considered to be a Scottish delicacy; however, depleting wild stocks have resulted in attempts to farm them. Selective breeding has been successful in modifying behaviour, increasing body length, reducing hair coat and improving fank (litter) size. However, there are still significant problems associated with the terrain in which they are farmed. This article describes the use of ultrasonography in the reproductive management of this species and the introduction of new genetic material in an attempt to address these problems, with the aim of improving welfare and productivity.

Dux magnus gentis venteris saginati (which translates liter- ally as ‘great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race’), more commonly known as the haggis, is an ancient creature that inhabits mountainous areas of the world. However, it is usually associ- ated with the highlands of Scotland, where it is mentioned in the literature as far back as the year 10Oatcake (McCrumbly 10Oatcake). The Scottish haggis (Haggis Scoticus vulgaris) is a shy creature that is not commonly sighted in the wild (Fig 1). It has adapted uniquely to the inhospitable terrain in which it lives, in that its left ipsilateral pair of legs (membra thoracici et pelvine sinistra) are considerably longer than its right ipsi- lateral pair (membra thoracici et pelvine dextra), allowing it to graze along the steep mountain slopes towards the rising sun and move through the heather.

The wild haggis is a seasonal breeder with a gestation period of 56 days. Mating takes place on November 30, when libido increases as a result of the few wee drams partaken at St Andrew’s night parties up in the glens. As a result of these indiscretions, most hagglets are born on January 25. It is also on this date that the annual cull of mature hag- gii takes place. With the stappit (pregnant haggs) safely in their burrows, the entire village helps to drive the rest of the haggis scuddle towards the end of the glen where, forced to turn abruptly in a confined space, they are incapacitated by their uneven leg length and lose their footing to tumble down into strategically placed nets. The size of the mesh is carefully regulated to ensure that only mature animals are ensnared. The writings of Rabbie Burns greatly increased the popularity of the haggis as a culinary delicacy (Burns 1786), and the day of the annual cull is now celebrated by Burns’ suppers. However, because the harsh climate limits wild haggis fank (litter) size to only two or three hagglets,

Selective breeding has successfully increased body length, reduced hair coat, modified (drinking) behaviour, reduced seasonality and increased fank size. However, the uneven leg length still poses a problem as it requires the provision of suitably inclined grazing. Attempts to rear haggii on flat ground in the lowlands resulted in a high incidence of ‘falling-over disease’, a condition similar to that affecting a large number of Scotsmen and veterinary students on a Friday night, and colloquially known as ‘stoatin’ fu’’ (McTipsy and others 1969). Although not usually fatal, it can cause signifi- cant nagging within the scuddle, which disrupts production.

The aim of the present project was to introduce genetic material from a variety of haggis from the southern hemi- sphere, Haggis mundus novis, also known as Haggis backto- frontus. This variety is membra dextra longa as opposed to the Scottish membra sinistra longa. The intention was to produce even-legged haggii (membra aequae) that could graze on flat land, thereby improving welfare and productiv- ity under farmed conditions. Animal movement restrictions prevented the importation of a live male haggis or hagg from the southern hemisphere, and therefore artificial insemina- tion was attempted for the first time in this species.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

An adult farmed Scottish hagg was scanned daily throughout the oestrous cycle using a Powervision (Toshiba) ultrasound system and a 12 MHz linear transducer. At ovulation, the hagg was sedated using 4 drams/kg uisge bheath (Whyte and MacKay) and artificially inseminated with imported frozen southern hemisphere haggis semen. The hagg was scanned daily until pregnancy was detected and then throughout ges- tation until parturition at 56 days.

RESULTS

The thick subcutaneous fat layer that the haggis has evolved to withstand the Scottish climate prevented penetration of the ultrasound beam and imaging of the internal organs

DISCUSSION

This is the first report of ultrasonography being used in the management of reproduction in the haggis. It successfully identified ovarian structures and allowed the detection and monitoring of pregnancy. Information regarding leg length and sex was also obtainable, which is likely to be important in future breeding programmes.

In addition, this is the first report of the use of artificial insemination in this species. Such ancient species often do not tolerate artificial interference with their reproductive patterns. However, the genetic tendency of this species to find ‘uisge bheath’ irresistible makes them an easy-going and friendly species to work with.

The production of a hagglet that was membra diagonale longa was a worrying occurrence. This state has been reported to occur in the wild as a mutant variant where affected ani- mals cope by grazing the sides of narrow ditches and streams with their two long legs in the water and their two shorter legs on either bank. However, their anatomy predisposes them to

recurrent bouts of ‘falling-over disease’ (McTipsy and others 1969), although some observers claim that they walk straight and upright at Hogmanay after the ingestion of large volumes of uisge bheath (D. R. Stalker, personal communication). Membra diagonale longa hagglets are therefore undesirable in the farmed variety, and further work will involve attempts to increase the proportion of the fank that are membra aequae while reducing the incidence of this mutant state.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The authors thank M. Paterson for selflessly sacrificing his ‘Hey, Jimmy!’ wig and N. Milne for fearlessly restraining the hagg during the ultrasound examinations.

References

BURNS, R. (1786) To a Haggis. Caledonian Mercury. December 20, 1786 MCCRUMBLY, I. M. (10Oatcake) Ye olde haggis. In McCrumbly and Wrinkle’s

Guide to Ancient Scottish Beasties. 1st edn. Auchinshoogle Press. pp IV-X MCTIPSY, R. U., STEAMER, A., SHED, P. I. & WHISKY, M. A. C. (1969) Falling over disease in Scotsmen, students and haggii as a result of inappropriate

ground levels – honest! Prohibition Monthly 1, 1-3

Authors’ note

No haggii were harmed during this study. Hagglet 9 has been rehomed to a little old lady in Plockton who has called him Hamish, and he is living happily on a diet of hand-picked heather and Old Pulteney.

On a serious note, this work is entirely fictitious (apart from one scientific fact – haggis contains too much fat and air for ultrasound to penetrate at diagnostic ranges). It is being published to coincide with Burns Night (January 25) and its intent is pure and harmless fun.

The Veterinary Record, January 20, 2007

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