Compared to those that grew up in the city, not on a ranch or a farm or in our case, a vet clinic, my brother and I did not have “normal” childhoods. Instead of having a chat with mum or dad about birds and bees, we helped to breed mares. Believe you me–any questions you might have about sex are cleared up midway through the first session, and any inklings towards teenage romance are squashed soon after. Even Joel, my then boyfriend but now husband, was brought into the act. We had just started dating, and Dad asked me to go to the airport in Billings to pick up a shipment. Joel kept asking me what we were picking up, and I was oddly tight-lipped and evasive on the subject. Is there ever a good way to tell your new boyfriend that you’re picking up horse semen at the airport?
Trust me, there is not.
I do find it humorous that for someone sans human children (Eleanor and Beatrice notwithstanding), so much of my life is now focused on getting something pregnant, checking to see if she is pregnant, delivering the object of said pregnancy, and then later, perhaps spaying or neutering said offspring. Suddenly, that hated question of “So, when are you going to have children?” seems so…non-eventful. Tame. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so snappish on the subject. (One plus of reaching 40 is that no one asks you that question any more. Certain conversational topics are generally considered to be off limits, and to women of a certain age, this topic is more verboten than most.)
This brings us to breeding season here at Bridger Vet. Just as we roll off preg-checking, we start to see the mares roll in. The ultrasound machine goes into heavy rotation, and we’re on a first-name basis with all manner of delivery drivers, airport personnel, and can tell you the flight arrival times into Billings without looking at our phones. Why, you ask? Because at one point or another, any one of us has either driven to meet the FedEx or UPS guy in a parking lot somewhere or has been dispatched to the airport. And as a season kick-off, I’ve posted this ad in several different equine publications within the area.
All humor aside, breeding mares is difficult work. Here are seven important points to consider if you’re thinking about breeding your mare:
- Select the mare that you would like to breed. Careful mare selection is of the utmost importance. As owner or breeder, you need to be realistic about the mare you intend to breed, considering her age, her past breeding history, her body condition, and her weight. Older mares are often less fertile mares, and her breeding history can often provide important clues regarding how easy it will be for your mare to become pregnant and then hopefully deliver a live, healthy foal. Additionally, you need to consider what traits you’re looking to pass forward, the mare’s conformation, and what would you like the colt or filly to be able to do. You cannot bank on the stud to improve the genetic potential of the mare. The mare contributes more to the genetics of the foal than does the the stallion. Consider choosing a stud that will partly offset some of the less desirable traits of the mare.
- Determine if you can afford to breed your mare. Believe it or not, this is a good question to ask before you get too far down the road. Breeding horses is an expensive proposition, and it is best to determine what you can realistically afford. Contact the stallion station or veterinary clinic that will AI the mare to have them provide you with a rough idea of the costs of breeding the mare. Among the expenses you will need to cover are the stallion’s breeding fee, stallion-collection costs, semen-shipping costs, ultrasounds, potential mare transportation and boarding, and insemination fees.
- Decide on the method used to breed your mare. Will you use live cover or artificial insemination (AI)? If you’re going to AI, are you using fresh-cooled or frozen semen? Fresh-cooled semen is collected, an extender is added, then is chilled and shipped, while frozen semen is collected, frozen, and shipped. There are pros and cons to live cover as well as to AI. Mares tend to have lower conception rates with frozen semen, and it is typically a bit more expensive than fresh-cooled semen. Each mare, however, is unique, so you will need to determine what method will work best for your particular mare.
- Verify that your mare is in good breeding condition. A good breeding candidate is a mare that is physically normal and is without obvious reproductive issues. Your veterinarian can perform a pre-breeding exam, which may include uterine cultures and uterine biopsies to help you determine your mare’s candidacy. If you are trying to breed your mare early in the season, put her under lights as seasonal estrus will be a factor.
- Determine where you would like the foal to be born or to foal out. It is far easier to transport a single mare instead of a very pregnant mare with a foal at her side.
- Ensure that your mare is current on all vaccinations. Specifically, your mare should be current on equine influenza, rhinopneumanitis, eastern and western incephalitis, West Nile virus, tetanus, rabies, and inquire regarding equine viral arteritis (EVA). Your mare should also be dewormed. If your mare is going to a breeding facility, contact the barn manager to ensure that your mare meets or exceeds their health requirements. Be sure to retain copies of any health documentation and that the breeding facility obtains and retains a current copy.
- Set your mare’s breeding schedule. If she is already pregnant, determine if you want to breed the mare on a foal heat or second heat. Generally speaking, mares experiences lower conception rates during foal heat as the mare’s uterus has only had about a week to recover from foaling.Your veterinarian or breeding facility are important resources in helping you to determine what schedule will be optimal for your mare.
- Pray. If you’re an atheist, you’re still going to want to develop a relationship with a higher power. Even if everything is done just right, a mare doesn’t always get pregnant, and even if she does, that does not mean that her foal will be perfect. Breeding horses is not for the faint of heart or wallet. My father has a sign in his office that reads, “When buying a horse or in taking a wife, close your eyes tightly and commend yourself to God.” Any experienced breeder will tell you that it applies here as well.
As I was writing this post, this little ditty from “Grease 2” was playing in my head the entire time. Good luck getting that out of your head.