From the Foaling Barn

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MQF #1: The Verdict

Since Ozzie has been open for two years now, we have started riding her again.  She may not be in great breeding shape, but she sure is in great riding shape

 

The results on Ozzie's fertility assessment came back this week, and there's good news and some not-so-good news, but nothing to make me feel hopeless about her future as a broodmare.
(See my post MQF # 1 to review Ozzie's breeding history.)

First the good news. Ozzie's biopsy results came back a Grade II-B, which while not great is also not inconsistent for a mare of Ozzie's age and breeding history. Also, the biopsy suggested that the glands in her uterus are healthy and in numbers enough to sustain a pregnancy. The other good news, and this won't sound like good news to most people, but Ozzie does have a uterine infection which has been identified as strep. I say this is good news because of all the problems Ozzie has, this is the most fixable and in itself could account for her inability to get pregnant. Dr. Brian thinks that Ozzie has been aspirating air and will need a Caslick to forestall future infections. For those of you unfamiliar with the Caslick, let me explain.  Many mares as as they age undergo changes in their breeding conformation that cause them to contaminate themselves through the aspiration of air into their uteruses which pulls feces and other sources of disease into their reproductory track. To avoid this problem, once a pregnancy is confirmed, the vet will sew up the vulva leaving an opening for urination. This procedure is called a Caslick named for the  the person who first developed it. About two to three weeks before foaling the vet will open the Caslick. Last year two of my mares had Caslicks.

Now for the not-so-good stuff. As I mentioned in the previous article, Ozzie has at least three sizable uterine cysts, one of which has grown significantly since the end ot the breeding season. The cysts make it  difficult to determine if Ozzie is pregnant at 14 days, and may interfere with the embryo's movement in the uterus. So Dr. Brian thinks we need to have the cysts removed before we do anything else. The best way to treat cysts so that they don't return is to have them lazered off. That means a trip to the University of Minnesota. Once the cysts are removed, we will treat Ozzie for the infection, and hopefully we'll achieve a pregnancy this year.




Buying Discounted Breedings in Sire and Dam Auctions


This week I sent out 72 letters and contracts to reining stallion owners asking them to participate in the North Central Reining Horse Association Sire and Dam Auction. During the next weeks I'll be waiting anxiously for the returned contracts. The number and quality of stallions in our auction will have a big effect on our association's futurity in August. What we earn from the auction enhances our purses and our Stallion Awards which go to the owners of the Champions and Reserves in the Open and NonPro.

This is the fourth year I've run the auction, and in those years I've learned a lot about smart ways to bid and dumb mistakes people make in bidding. So in this post I'm going to give you my inside tips to help you buy smart.


First of all, let me tell you about the motives and benefits to the three parties involved in a Sire and Dam Auction (some auctions are called Stallion Auctions); the mare owner, the stallion owner, and the sponsoring organization.


The Mare Owner

When you are bidding on a stallion, you are trying to get a discounted breeding on a top stallion. When I say discounted breeding, I mean you are bidding on the breeding fee only. You are still responsible for all other fees, booking, shipping etc. Some auctions start all the stallions at half the regular fee. Others, like the NCRHA Sire and Dam auction, start most of the breedings at $500 no matter what the regular fee. Sometimes the less popular sires will sell for the minimum prices. But the more popular ones will go for almost their regular fees.  Many of the Sire and Dams that are associated with a particular show also give the mare owner a free entry in the show. For example, our association gives the mare owner a free entry in our futurity for the offspring of the breeding.


The Stallion Owner: Some Sire and Dam Auctions have Sire Awards associated with their shows. The award goes to the class winners in associated shows and is usually monetary, but sometimes winners receive the use of trailers or other equipment. But to tell you the truth, most stallion owners don't get much out of this deal. Contrary what most people believe, a donation of a breeding is not a tax write-off for the owners. At best, the donation helps the stallion owner promote his or her stallion through the auction site and associated advertising. It also helps some stallion owners by getting more foals on the ground. Of course, for the wildly popular stallions none of this applies. The owners don't really benefit from the publicity and they already have plenty of get on the ground. Many owners just see donations as a way to benefit the industry as a whole.

The Sponsoring Organization: The NCRHA recieves all the proceeds from the auction of stallion breedings. We have some expenses associated with the auction, payment to the on-line host, advertising, etc. Our organization uses the proceeds to support our annual futurity.

Now, what do you need to know before you bid?
First, of all remember what you are bidding on--the breeding fee only. Before you bid, make sure you know what the breeding fee is. If the auction lists the price as $2000 with a $500 booking or chute fee included in the price, you need to realize that you are bidding on $1500. This is where people really get in trouble and overbid. I try to break out the booking fee from the breeding fee when I list the stallion, but some owners want the booking fee included with the breeding fee. Also, really look at the additional expenses. Most booking fees are $500, but some of the high dollar stallions have booking fees of $750 to $1000, so pay attention because that can really drive up your total cost. Also, a few breeders have extra costs for donated breedings, asking for both a chute and booking fee. Canadian and Europeans will also face additional charges.

Second, read about the payment options. Some auctions require payment by check, cash or wire transfer. Others offer credit cards but with 3% to 5% added to the final price. This will all be listed on the auction site, so don't be surprised by the lack of credit options or the added expense for credit. Also, you should know how long you have to pay, which can range form one to three weeks. If a problem arises, contact the auction administrator immediately. I am always happy to work with someone who needs a little more time. Only twice in four years has anyone failed to pay. In one case I was able to resell the breeding, but in the other case, our association lost out.  Information on debt-beats is shared with other auctions, so if you don't pay up you will be banned from other auction sites in the future.
 
Now, for my last and most important piece of advice. Don't buy a breeding just because it's a bargain. Before you bid, make a list of the stallions that would cross well on your mare. Our site allows you to flag the horses you are interested in to keep track of them as the auction progresses. One way to stop yourself from getting carried away in the bidding, is to enter a proxy bid of the highest price you are willing to go. The proxy will automatically bid $50 over any other bid up to your limit. Also, our auction site ends the bidding on five stallions every three minutes, which allows you to have a fall back if you don't get your first choice.

Over the next six months, you'll be able to participate in many Sire and Dam Auctions. They all have slightly different foremats and regulations. Before you bid in any of them, be sure you understand what you are bidding on, how you are to bid, and how and when you are to pay. Sire and Dam Auctions are great for you and for the organization you are supporting. Remember that the stallion owners are doing both of us a favor, so be respectful of them.


Case Study: MQF # 1

Today Dr. Brian was out to do fertility evaluations on our three open mares. In this post I want to focus on one of the mares whose breeding problems appear to be the most problematic.

Ozzie (Whizard of Oswald by Topsail Whiz) is a seventeen year-old mare, sound and in good health. She has been a fairly easy breeder until two years ago. After a normal pregnancy and delivery, when Dr. Brian ultrasounded her in preparation for rebreeding, he found signifcant changes in her uterus. She had developed numerous uterine cysts, at least two of them approximately the size of a fourteen day embryo. Brian was not overly concerned about the cysts. He said he has seen mares get pregnant with many more cysts. However, the shape, location and size of the cysts, made it difficult to determine pregnancy until there was a heartbeat. Unfortunately, during the last two years Ozzie never became pregnant, or, if she did, she lost the pregnancy before day 25. When Dr. Brian checked Ozzie today, he found that one of the cysts had grown substantially since he last checked her in June.

While cysts are fairly common in aging mares and often cause no breeding problems, if the cysts are large they can interfere with the embryo when it enters the uterus. The embryo needs to move around in the uterus in order to establish maternal recognition, so that the embryo is not rejected by the mare. Also, cysts may indicate problems in the lining of the uterus that would interfere with the attachment and nourishment of the embryo. To determine the health of  Ozzie's uterus, Dr. Brian took a small biopsy of the uterine lining which will be evaluated for infection or degenerative processes. Biopsys are graded I, II, and III. A Grade I indicates a healthy uterus with pregnancy odds of 75% or better; a Grade III uterus would have only a 10% chance of achieving a pregnancy.

Besides ultrasound, the two most important tests Dr. Brian uses in his feritlity evaluation are a biopsy of the lining of the uterus and a small volume lavage (SVL). The SVL is usually done to determine infectious pathogens in the uterus. A small amount of fluid is injected into the uterus and then drawn out and cultured. The SVL gives a better picture of the health of the uterus than a swab which only tests one small part of the uterus. Often the culture from SVL will show infection when a swab culture will be clean. When Dr. Brian did a SVL on Ozzie, he was only able to retrieve a very small amount of the injected fluid, which may mean that the large cyst is, indeed, interfering with normal uterine activity.

If Ozzie's biopsy comes back a Grade I or II, we could choose to have the three large cysts removed to vastly improve chances of pregnancy. However, with a Grade III Ozzie's breeding career would be over.

I'll keep you updated on the results.

Ozzie and Her Last Foal


Breeding Problems: MQFs (Mares of Questionable Fertility)

 

Next Thursday our excellent vet, Dr. Brian Dahms, is coming out early in the morning to perform a fertility assessment on my three open mares, Dry Sugar Rose, Smart Little Jewel, and Whizard of Ozwald.  Each one of these mares was bred multiple times last spring with differing but always disappointing results.  When Dr. Brian comes out next week, his basic work-up on each mare will include palpation, ultrasound of the uterus and ovaries, speculum examination of the cervix, uterine biopsy, and uterine culture by use of small volume lavage.  The biopsy will be sent out for evaluation and grading; the small volume lavage will be cultured for infectious agents.  After we get the results back, we'll decide how to proceed with each mare. 

During the next week, I'm going to write up a case history of each mare.  Then after the exams, I'll follow up and let you know what if anything we'll be doing differently to each mare before and during breeding season.

These three mares, at ages 19 and two at 17, are among my oldest mares.  Most mares' fertility begins to decline, sometimes precipitously, beginning around aged 17, so it isn't unusual to be facing breeding issues.  I'm willing to spend a little time and effort to try to get a few more foals out of each of these mares because they are three of my best mares.  They all have impeccable pedigrees, outstanding show careers, and/or have a strong  produce records.


At Last: The Orphans Have a Herd

Last week, our two orphan foals were three and half months old--and it was time. We fed the colts their last meal of milk replacer and with great trepidation led them out to the pasture to meet the six other weanlings they would be spending the next year with.

The six older weanlings were standing at the hay bale, and they all turned to look. There was a moment of quiet as the two groups sized each other up, and then pandemonium broke out. The orphans took off running with the six in hot pursuit.

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Gradually, things calmed down and the two groups went to their separate corners.   When it came time to grain,  I was afraid Viktor and Colin would be too timid to stand their ground, so I put the grain in the pans and then went and stood between the orphans and the older weanlings until everyone was finished.  I did this for a couple of days and then decided to let nature take its course.  To my great surprise, when Armando and Mort tried to shoulder the orphans away from their feed pan, both Viktor and Colin double-barreled them.  Armando and Mort beat a hasty retreat, looking over their shoulders and I'm sure thinking,  "Wow, those guys are tough."  I was so proud of my little guys!

Since then while the orphans stick pretty close to each other, they are gradually insinuating themselves into the life of the little herd.  I'm feeling pretty confident that they will be well-adjusted horses.


The New Recipient Mares Arrive.

Our New Recipient Mares

Last week our two new recipient mares arrived from Royal Vista Southwest in Purcell, OK. We named them Michelle and Rosanne, after the owners of the stallions whose embryos each one is carrying. This way we keep it straight in our minds which mare is carrying which embryo--Michelle is carrying a Spooks Gotta Gun embryo and Rosanne is carrying a Smart Spook. We like to give them real names, because we treat them just like we treat our other mares. I hate it when recipients arrive with white plastic collars with their numbers emblazoned in black. I know this is a necessary evil at big farms, and most big time horse owners don't get so attached to their horses that they care about the anononymity of recipient mares. But we're small time and and relatively new to breeding horses. All our mares are well-loved and well-cared for, and we take care of them personally every day.

Both mares are big and handsome. I'm really interested to see the foals they produce, because our donor mare, Shin N In The Finals, is a short, stocky mare, and all of her foals so far have been small like her. I'm hoping these big mares will produce bigger foals. However, I've read many academic studies that all say there will be only minor difference in the ultimate size of the foals, no matter how big or small the recipient. Well, this should be an interesting experiment.

Michelle, a handsome, bay is pretty laid back. She leads well and is nice to be around. Rosanne, a sorrel who appears to be the dominant one, is head shy and we've been having a little trouble getting a lead rope on her. But both mares are in isolation for two weeks--in stalls at night and together in a small paddock during the day. We've been working with Rosanne everyday while we have her confined, and she's getting much better about letting us clip on the lead rope. She's fine once we have her and she leads quietly. She's very attached to Michelle, and wants to follow her, so she now comes to the gate immediately if I take her friend out. I'm sure she'll be just fine.

We isolate all new horses who come to the farm. When we send our own mares down to Texas to be bred, , they, too, spend two weeks in isolation when they come home, just to make sure they haven't brought back any diseases. I especially like this practice with recips, because it gives me a chance to get to know them and assess their personalities.


How He Got This Way

This is Colin. At three months of age, he is big, well-muscled, straight-legged, and handsome. His eyes are bright; his coat shiney.  Colin is an orphan, fed from age three days on milk replacer. While many commercial milk replacer are quite good, we credit Colin's good health to these two products, Silky Coat Milk Replacer and Silky Coat Milk Pellets.




Perhaps the reason that it has proven to be such a good substitute for mother's milk is because it is made by a local company that specializes in making species specific milk replacer, Royal Milc, in Lakeville, MN, about 45 minutes from our farm. It is made up fresh every week right before our wonderful feed rep, Travis Lemke, picks it up and delivers it to our farm. Freshness is important in milk replacer because it contains a great deal of fat and can become rancid if it sits on a shelf too long.

I just started feeding the last bags of milk replacer and pellets tonight. We plan to wean the orphans next week and turn them out in pasture with other weanlings. I have absolutely no connections to Royal Milc, except as a customer, so this product endorsement is completely unsolicited and heartfelt. I truly believe this product gave my beautiful orphans the best start in life they could possibly get.


Allogrooming

Colin and Pappita

Allogrooming or social grooming is common behavior in humans and many animal species, expecially in horses. Allogrooming is practiced by almost all horses living is herds, but it is most prevalent among mares. Mares tend to form long term pair bonds in which allogrooming is an important acitivity. In feral herds, mare bonding and allogrooming create herd cohesion and defuse aggressive behavior. Because it increases endorphins and diminishes stress, allogrooming is also beneficial to the well-being of individual mares.

Mares groom more than stallions or geldings, fillies groom more than colts, and young horses groom more than older horses. Allogrooming pairs tend to be loyal to one another over time. They tend to be similar in age but not necessarily rank. The one exception is the pair formed by dam and foal. The foal will begin to exhibit allogrooming behavior toward its mother within three days of birth, and begin to groom other foals within a few weeks.

When we put our old mare, Pappita Sunrise, out with the orphans, she eventually accepted Colin and allowed him to nurse. I often wondered if she accepted him and not Viktor because he is the same color as she and actually looks like he could be her own foal. However, he was much more persistent in wooing her. It took him several weeks until she was willing to let him nurse. I should say here that we realize he's getting nothing nutritional from her, but we are glad he was able to form this bond with her so that he would have a more normal foal experience.

And part of that foal experience he is having is allogrooming with his foster mom. But even before he and Pappita formed their bond, Colin and Viktor groomed one another. Colin was only with his mother Jodie for three days, but he may have experienced allogrooming behavior with her. But Viktor never had that early foal experience, so his embrace of allogrooming must be seen as instinct.

But even if it is only an instinct, to we humans it's an endearing trait in horses.

Arrivals and Departures: Recipient Mares

 

 

One of our wonderful recipient mares.

Tomorrow, our good friend Travis Hochstatter from The South Farm in Whitesboro, Texas, is bringing up our two recipient mares from Royal Vista Southwest. The new recipient mares are carrying two embryos from our mare Shin N In The Finals. Shiney foundered after treatment for a retained placenta. While she has recovered, she sustained some damage to one of her hooves which we will need to monitor carefully for the next year. We decided it would not be safe for her to carry her own foal this year. Because she is our most promising young mare, we also decided to try for two embryos. After some early difficulties we were successful with embryos from breedings to Smart Spook and Spooks Gotta Gun.

Both recipient mares have been checked for heartbeats and are now ready to come to their new home for the next year. While there are many great reproduction centers throughout the country, Dr. Brian likes to use Royal Vista Southwest in Purcell, OK. Royal Vista has one of the oldest and most respected ET programs in the country, and we have had an excellent relationship with them for the past eight years.This year we had two wonderful recips, who carried foals by Spooks Gotta Gun and Big Chex to Cash. They were both great mothers, easy to handle, and good with other mares and foals. The first to return to OK is a handsome black mare (the one in the rolling pictures at the top of the page). We have not weaned the foal off the other mare yet. She will probably be with us till October.

The new mares arrive tomorrow night. They will be in isolation for two weeks in stalls in the foaling barn. Once they are out of isolation they will join the other pregnant mares whose foals have already been weaned. While it is sad to see last year's mare leave, we are excited to have the new mares join us.

Our other 2012 recipient mare, the mother of Mrytle by Big Chex To Cash, out of our mare Dry Sugar Rose.


Updates: Shiney, Orphans, and Erhlichiosis

Now that foaling and breeding season is over, there's nothing too exciting happening on the farm, so I thought I'd update a few earlier stories.Shiney, our mare who foundered after foaling, seems finally to be out of danger. Since the crisis stage of the laminitic episode five months ago, Shiney has never been entirely sound. Last month her lameness suddenly became much worse as the result of a large abcess. We began to worry that the laminitis had returned. However, within a week, Shiney just as suddenly began to walk normally--she looks completely sound. We now wonder how long that abcess had been brewing. She no longer needs her Soft Ride boots, or the lilly pads, or any special shoes. She is barefoot and turned out in a small paddock. Dr. Brian does not want her to be out with the other mares until the damaged area of her hoof is completly grown out. He is concerned that the hoof wall below the damage is too fragile to stand much pressure and if it were to crumble we would have another crisis on our hands. So for the time being, she'll remain in the barn at night and turned out in her paddock with Jewel during the day.We had another case of erhlichiosis a few weeks ago, our second of the year. One of the yearlings (Finn) failed to come to his feed pan. When we took his temperature it was only slightly elevated, but we were still suspicious. We waited an hour and found the temp had gone up about a half a degree. An hour later, it was up again. So we called the vet and relayed our belief that we had another case of erhlichiosis. The vet came out, took some blood and gave Finn the first of five daily shots of tetracycline. The bloodwork came back positive. Usually, by July, the ticks have disappeared, but for some reason, the warm, wet summer perhaps, this year we are still seeing ticks on the dogs, horses and even ourselves.Now as to the Ophans--they look fabulous. In fact, I think they look better than the foals who've been nursing for five months on their dams. They are big and well muscled, with nice straight legs and beautiful, shiney coats. They turn three months next week, at which time we will wean them completely from the milk replacer. Right now they are only drinking about three quarts a day, supplemented with milk pellets, grain and supplement (we use Assurance Alfalfa Balancer). They are also offered all the hay they want. As soon as we wean the last three foals, we plan to put them and the orphans together.


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