by Dr. Justin High, DVM
Well, ready or not breeding season is here and all the fun that comes with it. The fun part is trying to decide which pedigree works with your mare, and the many stallions there are available to choose from to produce the next big winner.
Unfortunately, the not-so-fun part can come in the form of actually getting Mr. Sperm introduced to Ms. Egg, and have them cooperate to produce the little superstar. As a veterinarian, I tell people who are not familiar with breeding mares, especially with shipped semen, that you need two things:
The bad thing is that one usually runs out before the other. Hopefully, your mare breeding experience is a pleasant one, and you get a pregnant mare while maintaining your sanity and wallet. When choosing a stallion, here are a few things to keep in mind to make things flow as smoothly as possible if you are breeding with shipped semen.
1. Find out all the costs – Obviously, we all know about stud fees and how they can vary depending on the popularity and demand of the horse. Smart stallion owners do a good job of marketing their horses by waving or discounting this cost to proven mares, but the upfront stud fee is rarely all inclusive. With shipped semen the costs of collecting the horse and sending the semen across the country can be substantial, and not always included in the stud fee. On the rare occasion when your stud fee includes collecting and shipping, it will be a limited number of collections. Typically, you will have the stud fee (cost just to breed to that particular horse) and the collection fee. The difference is a separate cost to have the stallion’s semen collected, processed for shipping to another location, and sent by overnight carrier to whatever location your mare happens to be at. The catch is that this cost will be incurred each time your veterinarian orders semen to breed your mare, whether it is once per cycle or multiple times per cycle. (Some breeding farms include the return shipping charges of the semen container and some do not, so ask up front). Be prepared for several hundred dollars to be charged to your credit card each time your vet orders semen for your mare. I point this out not because it is an unreasonable fee or something you should protest. It’s just the cost of breeding your mare. But, if you think you are getting a great deal to breed your mare for $Χ and you get another bill for the same amount on shipped semen that you were not expecting… refer to No. 2 above.
2. Semen Viability/Availability – Two words that sound alike but have very different meanings. Almost anyone can ship semen on a given stallion, but just like being able to eat a 5-pound cheeseburger in 30 minutes, it doesn’t mean you should. Stallions are individuals with different qualities that make them more or less desirable than others. Semen quality and viability – meaning the percentage of live sperm cells, and the ability of those cells to consistently produce pregnancies in mares after a process of cooling and shipping – is just as much of a heritable trait as conformation or athletic ability. Be sure to do your homework on a particular stallion and speak with as many people as possible who have bred mares to him via shipped semen. Some stallions do very well with fresh semen on the farm and very poor with cooled shipped semen. Other stallions are very popular and have a large book of mares they cover every season. In the hierarchy of breeding farms, “on farm” mares always trump “shippers” in the priority of who gets semen on a day with more breeders than semen to cover them all. So, if you choose a stallion with a large book of mares or one with “less than ideal fertility,” you may be in for a long breeding season. … refer to No. 1 above.
3. Rebreeds – In the unfortunate circumstance you are unable to get your mare pregnant during the breeding season you have purchased the stud fee, or the mare does not produce a live foal, there is such a thing as a rebreed. A rebreed is basically a “do over” without having to pay the stud fee again. As much as we all like to have “do over’s” they often come with conditions that as a mare owner you need to be familiar with before you start. The fees you paid for shipped semen, rectal ultrasounds and artificial inseminations are typically not included. Integral to the whole situation is the mare in question. If you chose to, or are forced to, substitute another mare for the rebreed based on the situation that got you there, you may well be at the mercy of the stallion owner/manager for approval. … refer to Nos. 1 and 2 above.
Breeding season is a great time of the year, and one when your dreams for the future of your specialized horse program have their start. It is this time when every mating has the potential to be the best cross yet, and we imagine the things a standout 2-year-old can do by summertime. Enjoy the challenge of making that cross; just don’t get caught by surprise with what it sometimes takes to make it happen.