From the Foaling Barn


Broodmare Vaccinations

Colin and Viktor were both hospitalized five days for treatment of the symptoms of rotavirus.


Every year when I pick up my recipient mares, Royal Vista gives me a list of the reminders and dates for the mares, including when to start a vaccination schedule. With one exception, I have always included these vaccinations in my regular mare care. I give all my mares the recommended three-shot series (at 5, 7, and 9 months) of Rhino vaccination to prevent what could become a potentially devastating loss of foals. I also give an Encephalitis-Tetanus-Flu-Rhino shot four weeks before foaling so that the mother will pass on antibodies of these diseases to her newborn.

However, Royal Vista always includes one other suggested three-shot series of rotavirus vaccine.  When I have asked Dr. Brian about this, he did not feel it was necessary as here in our cold climate we hardly ever see rotavirus in foals. He felt that this instruction was probably meant for breeders in hotter parts of the country. So until this year, I have never given this vaccine.

But, if you have been reading, my blogs you may remember that I had three foals come down with rotavirus last June. Two of the foals were extremely ill, suffering from anorexia, extreme watery diarrhea, lethargy, and dehydration. They each one spent five days in the vet clinic, where they were tubed with milk substitute and rehydrated with intravenous fluids, until they finally were eating and drinking on their own and passing solid manure. As you can imagine this was a fairly costly treatment. With the other foal, we acted immediately when she showed symptoms and we were able to avoid a lengthy hospital stay.  Without treatment for rotavirus, the mortality in foals is fifty percent.

When I asked Dr. Brian this year about the wisdom of giving rotavirus vaccine, he was of a different opinion. He now thinks that because we have had an outbreak it would be wise to give the vaccine series to all our mares for at least two years. He's also of the opinion that rotavirus may be more common in our state than commonly thought. Diarrhea is one of the leading causes of serious illness and death in foals, but few breeders bother to have the lab work done to determine the specific cause of the diarrhea, because all diarrheas are treated the same.  When our foals were in the clinic last June, there was a thoroughbred foal in the next stall with the exact symptoms. When I asked if he also had rotavirus, the vets couldn't tell me because the owner had declined to have the lab work done.

I suppose if I only had one mare, I might feel the same way. Maybe. But having been through this with three foals at significant expense, I would rather be safe than sorry this year. I may spend several hundred dollars on vaccine, but I may also save myself thousands of dollars in vet bills.

Which Mare To Which Stallion: Part Two

Once I settle on a list of stallions I want to breed to, I begin the process of assessing the stallions and mares to determine the best crosses .The very first thing I do when trying to decide which mare to breed to which stallion is to thoroughly and truthfully consider my mare's strengths and weaknesses. It's nice to think you could breed any good mare to any good stallion resulting in a superlative foal. But that's just not the case; it's just not that easy.Here are some of the things I consider. If the mare was shown, was she hot in the show ring, or laid back? Did she have a lot of feel or was she dull-sided? Was she soft in the face?
Conformationally, is she long-backed, tight coupled, low-headed, short necked, slight in the hip, upright in the shoulder, pretty-headed, plain-headed, tall, short, stocky, small-boned,etc?

Then I do the same thing with the stallion--consider all his plusses and minuses. Of course this is a lot more difficult than assessing your own mare. This process takes a lot of investigation. In my next post, I'll tell you how I go about getting the stallion information I need to make a good decision. Besides the issue of the stallion's conformation, feel and personality, I consider a couple of other factors as well. Color is not too important to me, but I do know that flash sells, so it is a minor consideration. Given an equal choice, I'll try to breed for some color. Buyers seem to be crazy for splash overos, which gives me some pause. I wonder what we're doing to the breed when we overlook the fact that we are breeding so many deaf horses just because we like the flash.

Another thing that is really important to me is how easy it is to work with the breeding manager or owner. Several years ago I had a very bad experience trying to breed two mares to a popular stallion. The breeding manager was a nightmare--never returning my calls or even talking to me directly about the mares (she had an assistant handle everything). After four tries we got one mare in foal for a June baby. The other mare did not get in foal. Over a five-year period, this particular stallion was moved around from stallion station to stallion station, with a different breeding manager every year. I quit breeding to the stallion until finally he got into a more stable situation. I'm also wary of difficult owners, who put a lot of restrictions and regulations on the mare owners. There are a few owners out there who seem to forget they are selling a product.

That said, the vast majority of owners and breeding managers are great and really want you to get your mare if foal. I just bring it up because, a bad breeding manager or an impossible owner can wreck you breeding plans.

Finally, there's one more thing that is more important than anything I've said so far. Have your mares checked for genetic disease, and ask the stallion owners if their studs have been checked as well. Almost all the diseases that we can determine by DNA, are recessive. Which means you can still breed to a carrier stallion as long as your mare is not a carrier also. You just need to know.

When I'm trying to fit all the pieces together, it's never straight forward or foolproof. I usually have ot make some compromises. If I think the body-types will work well together, I may overlook the fact that the horses aren't quite as good together is some other way. Or if everything else looks great, I'll breed plain-headed to plain-headed. Really, when you get down to it, trying to find the perfect cross, is a little more art than science. For example, I have a really plain, long-backed Chic mare, who always out-produces herself every year.

Which Mare to Which Stallion

It's the quietest time of the year on the farm. The foaling barn is empty so no stalls to clean, no orphan foals to tend, no vet appointments at 7 A.M., no trips to the airport to pick up semen, no garden to weed, no pastures to mow--just lots of time to indulge one of my favorite pastimes--planning my breedings for next year. This planning takes me about three to four months to really firm up. I will change my mind repeatedly, before I finally decide which of my fourteen mares to breed to which stallions. I'll scribble lists of stallions and mares on the backs of receipts, on backs of napkins, etc. But this week I made my initial foray into the whole process.

I have a big whiteboard in the foaling barn. I have seven columns on the board. The first three columns are 1. the mare's name, 2. the stallion the mare is curently bred too, and 3. the stallions I'm currently considering for 2013. The fourth column is a list of held over breedings. Since I lost two mares and ended the season with three open mares, I have five breedings to start with next year, including Wimpy, Boomshernic, Conquistador Whiz, Smart Like Juice, and Gunners Special Nite. Then in the fifth list I have a list of all the proven studs that I would consider breeding to which include such names as Gunner, Einstein, Spooks Gotta Gun, etc.  Finally, I have a list of unproven studs (no foal crop to show) which includes Gunnatrashya, Walla Walla Whiz, Spooks Gotta Whiz, etc. After the names on the last three lists, in parenthesis, I'll tentatively put in mare's names.

In general, because I'm breeding to sell, I stick to proven studs, especially those who have produced offspring earnings in excess of a millions dollars. I do breed to several unproven studs each year, but always to high earners who have owners with enough money to promote the horses and first class breeding managers. It's always a gamble to breed to a new stud, because you never know what kind of a sire he will be and you don't know if his popularity will hold up.

Then as I clean the barn each day, I study my list and think about my mares. Every few days, I'll pull a folding bar stool up in front of the white board and play with the lists, adding names to my stallion lists, moving mares around. As I said, my mare's list will go through numerous iterations before I'm satisfied.

I have a lot of criteria I use to determine which stallion to which mares, and a number of ways I gather the information I need to make my final choices. I'll go into this a lot more in coming posts.

MQFs: Two Down and One to Go

Jewel and Her 2011 Filly, Amber

Yesterday, Brian finished treating Dry Sugar Rose and Ozzie. He had treated both mares for the last three days by infusing them with Naxcel. Finally, with Ozzie he performed a Casslick to keep her from reinfecting herself by aspirating air and debris into her vagina.

However, it's back to the drawing board for Jewel. As I noted when Brian treated her previously, he noted an ugly discharge and mucus on his glove. Then yesterday when he ultrasounded Jewel he detected quite a bit of fluid in her uterus--this after being treated for mucus and infection for two days. So rather than a regular culture or a small volume lavage, using the ultrasound Brian directed a pipette into the uterus and actually drew off the fluid which looked like a pinkish-grey glue. When he saw it, Brian was pretty sure we were dealing with a staph infection rather than a fungal infection. But, before we go any further, he'll send the sample into Marshfield Lab to be cultured. Then we'll decide how best to proceed.

While he was collecting the uterine fluid, Brian detected a fairly sizeable tissue tag attached to Jewel's cervix. He thinks this tag could be wicking infection into the uterus from the vagina. He's debating about removing this tag.

So basically, Jewel has three breeding problems: the uterine infection, conformation problems that cause her to contaminate herself by aspirating air into her vagina, and the tag attached to the cervix.

The culture will be back by the end of the week. I'll keep you posted on what we find out and what we decide to do about it.


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