From the Foaling Barn


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.

Finally, Breeding Season Is Over

Windy (Whiz Chill Factor) is in foal to Gunner for 2013

Finally, we're finished breeding for the year. It was a tough year. Of course, the worst came in May when we lost two of our mares within five days shortly after they foaled. But even before this catastrophe, we were really struggling with our breedings. We had a lot of early foals--six by the end of Feb., but we just couldn't seem to get the majority of our mares back in foal. By April 1, I had only two confirmed pregnancies, Smart Sugar Pop to Einstein and The Bun Is Dun to Gunner. Two mares were in foal at fourteen days, but had lost the embryos by thirty days. We pulled a grade one embryo from Shiney, but it failed to live in the recipient. Ozzie, who was open, didn't come into heat until late May. We bred Jewel four times to Wimpy with no success and we finally gave up. After Dry Sugar Rose lost her first embryo, we bred her again, got her in foal, but when we checked her at 30 days, there was a vesicle but no embryo.

I felt like a black cloud was hanging over the farm, but, finally, as the spring progressed we finally and slowly began to make progress. The late foaling mares all got in foal easily, and we just kept after the other mares, succeeding in some cases, failing in others.

The final results for the year--we'll have nine foals for 2013, two down from our all-time high this year. We were successful in pulling two embryos from Shiney, one to Spooks Gotta Gun and one to Smart Spook. All the young mares are in foal. My Fertile Myrtle continues to be seventeen year-old Poppy (Smart Sugar Pop) who got in foal to Einstein on the first try on shipped semen. My oldest mare, twenty year-old Marilyn (Dunnits Shadow), is in foal after a false start. But the bad news is that three of my old girls, Dry Sugar Rose, Smart Little Jewel, and Whizard of Ozwald did not get in foal and each one seems to be exhibiting signs of significant breeding problems. I'm particularly worried about Ozzie because this is the second year in a row she has been open.

In September, Dr. Brian will do a work up on all the open mares, taking a uterine biopsy and a small volume lavage, to try to determine what problems we will need to deal with next year. I'll put the open mares under lights in November so that we can begin breeding them in February. Brian says that these older mares with reproductive issues are not necessarily hopeless cases--they just may take longer to get in foal.

But this year's problems tell me it's time to start adding young mares to my band. I'm planning on breeding two of my show girls and pulling embryos next year. And I'll start looking to buy a couple of more young mares.

The Older Broodmare

Ice Cold Dunnit and BH Song and Dance

The last two Chatsberry mares to foal this year happen to be my youngest and oldest mares. They are both duns and if you didn't know better, you'd think they were mother and daughter, or grandmother and granddaughter. I've recently written about the problems of maiden mares, and right after I wrote that post, one of my two maiden mares demonstrated one of the problems admirably, by refusing to feed her foal. So I think you can understand, why I'm a bit worried about writing about my old girl. Like almost all serious horse people, I'm superstitious. But in the interest of education, I'll give it a try.

BH Song and Dance is twenty-three years old and is due to deliver her sixteenth foal April 13, although since I've owned her, she has been three to twelve days early each year. BH, by Be Aech Enterprise and out of Melody Jac (Hollywood Jac), is one of only a handful of mares to have won the NRHA Open Derby. Her LTE is $29,000 and her offspring earnings are in excess of $110,000. But if you saw her, you'd never believe these statistics. BH is a small, fine-boned mare, and ever since I've known her she as been significantly navicular. She shuffles along in the pasture, and she definitely looks her age. Last year, she had a foal in mid-May. We bred her once to Gunner with shipped semen and got her in foal.

BH is an exceptional broodmare, but I have a number of older mares, and while it is challenging to keep them going, with good maintenance practices and a little medical detective work, I've been able to get most of my mares in foal every year. A mare's peak fertility is reached at ages six or seven, and fertility begins to decline significantly after age fifteen.

Keeping a regular maintenance schedule, is crucial to keeping older mares in good breeding condition. All of my mares are seen by our excellent farrier, Dave Jacobson, every eight weeks. Navicular mares like BH especially need frequent trimmings. I also have three mares that require special shoeing to stay sound. Dr. Brian keeps dental records on the mares and we usually float their teeth every two year. However, I keep special watch on the old girls, because I don't want them to drop weight because of dental problems. Speaking of weight, I probably like my mares just a bit heavier than Dr. Brian likes, but with our extreme cold, I like a bit of extra padding on my girls. I feed free choice hay (a grass/alfalfa mix), Assurance Alfalfa Balancer, and oats. I adjust the latter two depending on where the mares are in their gestation, upping amounts substantially for the last two months of pregnancy and the first three of lactation.

Even when you do everything right, breeding issues become more numerous as mares age, including, cervical tears, uterine scarring and cysts, urine pooling, inflamation and difficulty clearing fluids after breeding, etc. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate many of these issues, including post-breeding lavage, Casslicks, hormone therapy. And if all else fails, there is always embryo transfer. A good vet like our Dr. Brian will be up-to-date on all the latest breeding technology. I also learn a lot from the internet--it's amazing what you can find on-line.

One of the best ways to make sure an older mare gets in foal, is to try to make sure she stays in foal every year. The more years an older mare goes without having a foal the more difficult it becomes to get her in foal. Mares are meant to have foals, and their reproductive tracts are healthier when they are being used as nature meant them to be. My little, navicular mare BH miraculously seems to become much sounder right before she foals and during the months she has a foal at her side.


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