From the Foaling Barn


MQFs (Mares of Questionable Fertility): Updates and Corrections

My Problem Girl--Jewel (Smart Chic Olena X Gay Freckles Rio)

In my last post I gave you some incorrect information. Only Ozzie was flushed and then treated with Naxcel. The other two mares Dry Sugar Rose and Jewel were treated with acetylecysteine. When we did the small volume lavages (SVL) the flushes on both mares was cloudy with mucus and debris. The recommendation was for acetylecysteine to be infused on these two mares until the uterine lavage is clear. Today, Ozzie was infused again with Naxcel. Dry Sugar Rose was infused with acetylecysteine once more. Both of them looked good.

Before we treated Jewel today, we ultrasounded her to get a better look at her ovaries to see if the observed abnormalities might be dialated fallopian tubes. After a close look Brian thought this was unlikely, and what we are seeing is what it looks like--ovaries with many unusually small follicles. However,when Brian prepared to infuse Jewel he found suspicious material leaking from her vulva. And after he infused her, he found thick mucus on his glove. As it did with Dry Sugar, the acetylecysteine should have taken care of the mucus. He now thinks we should do another SVL on her and test it for a fungal infection. Usually, fungal infections create a nasty looking uterine environment. But a few years ago, one of our mares had a fungal infection that looked a great deal like what we are seeing in Jewel. We treated her for it, and she got infoal on one breeding the following year.

Actually, I'm feeling more confident about all three mares. None of them appear to have unsurmountable problems. I think we should be able to get each of them in foal next year.

I just want to mention one of the suggestions we received from Rood and Riddle ( the clinic in Kentucky that evaluated the biopsies). It was suggested that we give the three mares an Omega-3 fatty acid supplement daily for at least 60 days prior to breeding. Actually, when I contacted the supplier of the specific supplement mentioned by the clinic, they suggested that the supplement needs to be given for three months before it takes full affect. So, when I start bringing the mares in at night to put them under lights in November, I'll also begin administering the supplement then.

I'll keep you updated on these three mares.

MQF #2 and #3: The Verdict and the Treatment

Dr. Brian Dahms setting up to treat out three open mares.

Today, our great vet, Dr. Brian, came out to treat our three open mares. The results of the small volume lavage (svl) and the biopsys came back and one thing we learned is that all three mares had uterine infections and endometritis (inflamation of the uterine walls). In addition each mare had their own distinctive issues. I've already discussed Ozzie's uterine cysts in other posts. The other two mares, Jewel and Dry Sugar Rose, both have problems that are fairly common in aging mares. Now, for the specifics:

Jewel. Jewel's biopsy was the poorest of the three, with a grade in the low IIB range. In contrast, Dry Sugar Rose was a IIA and Ozzie was a low IIA /high IIB. The condition of her uterus suggests that she is aspirating air and contaminating herself. From now on she should have a Casslick once she is confirmed infoal to avoid this source of contamination. Also, Dr. Brian had been concerned about how her ovaries looked. She appeared to have numerous small follicles or cysts bilaterally. When Brian talked to the clinic that processed the biopsy, the vet there suggested that what we are seeing is dialated fallopian tubes, which might suggest a blockage.
Brian is a little dubious about this, but tomorrow when he flushes Jewel, he's also going to ultrasound her and look more closely at the ovaries. At nineteen, Jewel is the oldest of the three mares and is expected to have the most serious issues, which she does.

Dry Sugar Rose. She had the most optimistic outlook. Like the others, she had signs of inflamation and infection. We bred her twice, got her infoal twice, and then she slipped both embryoes by 30 days. She would have had a great deal of inflamation as a result of the debris left from the embryos, so the condition of her uterus was not a surprise. However, she has had a history of slipping embryos in past years. When she is nursing a foal, she has gotten pregnant and then lost the pregnancy every year. Dr. Brian and the clinic vet wondered about DNA problems, or as Dr Brian says, old eggs. But the vet clinic also says that the hostile environment of her uterus also could account for the early embryonic deaths.

The Treatment: Dr. Brian will be treating all three mares, three days in a row. Today, he intended to inject a broad range antibiotic (Naxcel) into each mare's uterus. The next two days, he will flush each mare. Actually, today he ultrasounded Ozzie first to check to see if she had any fluid or debris from the surgical removal of her cysts. The uterus looked good, but there was a little fluid, so before treating her with the Naxcel, he flushed her and gave her Oxytocin to help her evacuate her uterus.

Dr. Brian will be back tomorrow and the day after to complete the treatments. I'll update if there are any changes. In my next post, I'll write about the pre and post breeding protocol the clinic vet has suggested that we use on each mare to maximize our chances to achieve a pregnancy. Some of the suggestions we do routinely, but there were some interesting practices we have not used in the past.

Weaning: When and How

For the last several years we've ended up with a group of early foals born in January and February and another later group born in April and May. This year, for the first time we tried two different weaning techniques on these two groups.

We usually wean both groups between four and six months of age. We try to wean in large groups because we think it less stressful--this accounts for the differential in age in each group. Hoever,this year we had three foals who were weaned at three months. Our orphan foals were on milk replacer. The protocall for the feeding regime calls for weaning a three months. Also, we weaned one of the fillies at three months because her mother had foundered right after she was born, and we wanted to take any stress off the mother as she struggled with her recovery.

Because we live in such a cold climate, the foals from the first group spend at least part of the day outside if the temperature is above 20 degrees but come in with their mothers at night. These early foals are halter broke right away, so that we can lead them in and out easily. By March they stay out all night. This year we had six foals in this group. Because our foaling barn only has six stalls, and three of them were being used by the foundered mare and the two orphans, out of necessity we decided to wean by separating mares and foals by putting them in adjacent pastures.

We had a very hot summer this year, and I really don't like to wean when it's hot. But it's not practical to wait for fall weaning when several of the foals were already six month in June. Finally, when we got a stretch of seventy degree days, we made the change. For several days before the big split, I gradually reduced the mares' grain and supplement in order to reduce milk production. I don't take the grain completely away, because all the mares were pregnant, I don't like to make sudden extreme changes in feed. Once we separated the mares and foals, we kept a fresh bale in front of the mares as far from the shared fence-line as possible. For the first 18 hours after the weaning, the mares were far more interested in the hay than in the foals. Once their bags became full and a little painful, the mares began to occasionally visit the fence, but by day two they seemed pretty comfortable with the situation and went back to their hay.

The weanlings on the other hand were pretty upset for three or four days. But because they were in a large pasture, they could work off their excess energy and seek comfort in one another. Occasionally, the colts would try to nurse off each other, but pretty quickly, they figured out that it's not quite the same thing. In general, I think this is the easiest, least stressful way of weaning.

However, we decided to go a different route for the youngest three. Because of their late births and our preoccupation with the orphans, we pretty much threw these three out in the pasture at day two or three after their births, and barely touched them after that til it was time to wean. Consequently, they were almost feral. We couldn't begin to catch them in the pasture. So we just let them follow their mothers into the stalls, and then extracted the mothers right away and took them to distant pasture. Then we left these three wild things alone in their stalls, and slowly began the rather painful process of halter breaking. I would say this method is much harder on the mothers. They were more upset than the mothers who could see their foals and paced the fenceline for quite awhile. And the weaned foals, were also more stressed. They lost their voices, rubbed hair off their noses, chests, foreheads.

After this same year test of the two different methods of weaning, I come down firmly on the adjacent pasture method. It was just so much easier for us and less stressful for both foals and mares.

Ozzie Goes Under the Knife (Actually a Laser)

The University of Minnesota Equine Clinic

Once we determined that Ozzie's three uterine cysts had become so large that they were interfering with her ability to establish and/or sustain a pregnancy, and after discussion with our vet Dr. Brian Dahms, we decided we had no other choice but have the cysts removed. The traditional treatment for uterine cysts is to go into the uterus and cut them out. But often after surgical removal, the cysts will grow back. Recently, vets have begun to remove cysts by inserting a small camera into the uterus and then using a laserto remove them. I googled the subject, read up on it, and decided that, though it was a bit more expensive, the laser surgery was the way to go. Dr. Brian's clinic does not have this technology, so he recommended that we take Ozzie to the University of Minnesota's Equine Center.

We took Ozzie to the clinic on Thursday. Dr. Tatarniuk, a resident at the Equine Center, did the surgery on Friday afternoon. Prior to surgery Ozzie was given antibiotics to forestall any chance of infection. Then she was placed in stocks, and sedated, and the cysts were removed. Following the surgery, her uterus was lavaged to remove any debris. Finally, a rectal ultrasound was used to determine that the surgery had been successful. For the next few days, I am supposed to monitor Ozzie to make sure she shows no signs of infection. Also, about five days after the surgery, Dr. Brian will lavage her one more time.

When we picked Ozzie up, Dr. Tatarniuk confirmed what Dr. Brian believed--that the cysts had grown so large that they were probably interfering with the embryo's movement around the uterus which meant that maternal recognition was not achieved and Ozzie was rejecting the embryo. Also, even if there was maternal recognition the cysts may have interfered with the embryo's implantation in the uterus.

So, we hope with this surgery, we have solved the mystery of Ozzie's sudden infertility. I am so thankful that I have such a good vet and that we live so close to such a wonderful facilty as the U of Minnesota's Equine Center.

Ozzie Leaving the Equine Center

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


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