From the Foaling Barn


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.

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.

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.

Update: Foal Heat Breeding

We have two young mares (both five year-olds), who foaled late in the breeding season. Late foaling leaves you with only one or two attempts at breeding your mare. We really wanted to try to move up both our mares, Chicky and Icey, so we wouldn't be facing the same problem next year. Both mares had uneventful pregnancies and deliveries, and as far as we could tell by ultrasound neither had any post foaling problems. So we decided to give it a try.

The odds of a successful foal heat breeding are slim if the mare ovulates before nine days post foaling. However, the longer the mare goes beyond nine days without ovulating the better the chances of achieving a pregnancy. When we checked Chicky at day ten, she already had a CL, so that was that. But when we checked Icey at day ten, she was just coming into heat with multiple medium follicles on both ovaries. The next day she had a 35 on one ovary and a 34 on the other, so we called the breeder and ordered a FedEx delivery for the next day. We also gave Icey a shot of historelin to induce ovulation. The next morning when we checked her before breeding we found that she had already ovulated the 35, and we also found that we had a meager amount of semen to work with. Therefore, Dr. Brian thought we would be wise to do a deep horn insemination. We took a chance that the ovulation was recent (there was no CL yet) and inseminated in that horn. Brian thought there was a good chance that Icey would not ovulate the other follicle.

Fourteen days later we checked Icey for pregnancy and found that she had, indeed, ovulated the second follicle and she was infoal with twins. Fortunately they were located in both horns so Brian was able to pinch the smaller one. He gave Icey a shot of Banamine to forestall any inflamation in her uterus as a result of the remains of the now pinched twin. Pinching a twin can cause the mare to lose the other embryo in about 20% of the cases when the embryos are in both horns.

Because Icey delivered her foal six days early and we were successful with our foal heat breeding, we moved her up 25 days. So instead of a May or June foal next year, she'll have her foal in late April.

Icey and her 2012 filly Rita.  Icey is in foal for 2013 to Smart Spook.


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