Breeding season is just around the corner, and to help you prepare, Barrel Horse News contacted an industry expert with 20 years experience to outline the key points on how the breeding process can be handled smoothly at your chosen mare care facility.
The No. 1 thing mare owners need to assess prior to taking their mare to a breeding facility is the mare’s health condition, according to Kathy Key of Key Stallion Station, Pueblo, Colo.
“It’s important for a mare owner to make sure the mare and foal are in good health before they bring a mare into a stallion station,” Key said.
After a mare (and foal) has been determined healthy enough to be bred, the mare owner needs to decide when they want their mare to foal. Usually, most breeders strive to hit as close to the Jan. 1 mark as possible; however, Key says it is important to evaluate your facilities before deciding on a foaling date.
“A lot of people don’t have the facilities to foal out a mare safely in the early months of the year,” Key said.
Key suggested foaling in warmer months, such as April, or hauling your mare to a facility to be foaled out if your facilities won’t accommodate a January or February birth.
After choosing a foaling date, consider starting your mare on a lighting program. According to Key, if you want a January or February foal, you need to start your mare under lights no later than Dec. 15 to induce ovulation.
“Most people do not know when their mare is cycling,” Key said. “This is one of the reasons we ultrasound upon arrival, to make sure how everything looks good, reproductively, and to see where she is in her cycle. We are able to evaluate how soon the mare can be bred and if the mare requires any types of hormones. If the mare is in the middle of her cycle, she can be given a hormone shot to short-cycle her, which brings her into her cycle faster and allows us to breed her sooner.”
Key explained that putting a mare under lights can sometimes help the owner get the most efficient breeding experience. The goal of a lighting program is to provide the mare with 16 hours of light per day in hopes of causing her to cycle sooner, thus allowing her to be bred earlier in the year. If done correctly, lights are the most reliable method used to induce ovulation and simplify the experience at a mare care facility. Ideally, this means putting a mare under an artificial light source starting 30 minutes prior to dusk. After six hours, the light should be turned off, resulting in a total of 16 hours of light per day.
“Having a mare under lights all night doesn’t work,” she said. “Installing a timing system for your light program would be beneficial to ensure the mare is getting only the required hours of light.”
It’s important to make arrangements with the stallion station well in advance of arriving with your mare. Making early arrangements gives you time to ask questions, research and prepare any required paperwork. Key said reading and understanding the contract and having complete and thorough mare records are all part of the organizational process required when hauling a mare to a facility.
“Make sure mares are current on vaccinations, have been wormed, teeth floated and feet trimmed before taking them to a stallion station,” Key said. “After the mare is bred, those things cannot be done. The first 45 days of pregnancy are the most fragile and you do not want to worm or vaccinate the mare because it’s detrimental to the fetus,” she added.
Key suggested if those things have not been done prior to taking your mare to a facility, you should consider making arrangements with the station to have them completed before breeding your mare.
Once you arrive at a facility, it’s important to present the paperwork on your mare. This should include vaccination records, Coggins, a copy of semen contracts, a copy of mare registration, foaling record and any vices or breeding complications in the mare’s history.
“It’s important the owner lets the facility know when the mare last foaled,” Key said, “as well as any vices the mare may have and any prior complications getting the mare pregnant. This will help the facility evaluate and address any problems before breeding her.”
Easier to manage and safer for both stallion and mare, artificial insemination is becoming the standard breeding practice at mare care facilities, protecting the horses from disease and injury. When breeding to a stallion in-house, fresh semen will be collected and inseminated every other day through your mare’s ovulation cycle. For outside stallions, the mare care facility breeding your mare generally arranges all semen shipments. This lowers the possibility of mistakes due to miscommunication.
“It’s best to let the vet or breeding facility do all the ordering and shipping arrangements of the semen,” Key said. “The fewer people involved in that process, the lesser the chance of mistakes made when semen is shipped.”
Key suggests mare owners bring a copy of their contract with the stallion owner when ordering semen from outside stallions. These contracts have important information, such as contact numbers, collection dates, shipping schedules and deadlines. This information is necessary for the breeding facility to arrange and schedule semen shipment according to your mare’s ovulation, allowing the facility to breed your mare on time.
The Choice is Yours
The mare is not required to stay at the facility through the entire breeding season. Key explains that it’s often more convenient and cost effective for owners to take their mares home after ovulation. This is a choice that ultimately comes down to the specific needs of both the owner and the mare. The most important thing is for the mare to receive the two ultrasounds Key recommends after ovulation.
“We suggest that owners who live a long distance from the facility leave the mare until she is checked in foal,” Key said. “However, if the owner is local, we encourage hauling back for ultrasounds to lower mare care costs.
“The mare needs to have an ultrasound twice. One should be done at 14 to 16 days (from breeding), and the second at 35 to 45 days, in order to see a good heartbeat. It’s extremely important for those who don’t leave mares to have an ultrasound at these two intervals in order to ensure a successful pregnancy. Sometimes a vesicle never develops or gets a heartbeat; if we can see that on the second check, it allows us to address the problem and get the mare re-bred without loosing her for the breeding season.”
Being prepared and aware of the breeding protocol will simplify the process when hauling your mare to a facility. Don’t be discouraged by all the choices; the main thing to remember when it comes to breeding is that it’s all about preparation. Research the breeding facility, the stallion, the costs and all contract stipulations. Ask questions. Your mare’s breeding success depends on how prepared you are, so make arrangements before sending your mare to be bred.
- Assess the health of mare and foal
- Evaluate your facilities
- Determine ideal foaling date (based on facilities, etc.)
- Start lighting program (dependant upon desired foaling date)
- Make arrangements with breeding facility
- Secure the contract for shipped semen
- Have vaccinations and deworming up to date, teeth floated and hooves trimmed
- Read and understand your contract
- Ask questions
- Give the facility a 24-hour notice of mare’s arrival
- Take the mare to the breeding facility (dependent on desired foaling date)
- Have all paperwork in order:
- Copy of mare registration papers, breeding facility contract(s), copy of stallion semen contract(s), mare health papers, Coggins and vaccination records, etc.
- Keep stress to a minimum for the pregnant mare, especially in the first 45 days
- No vaccinations the first 45 days of pregnancy
- Ultrasound at 14-16 days and again between 35-45 days
- Make foaling arrangements
- Take mare to facility 30 days prior to foaling to build immunities to environment