Spring is in the Air…Foals are Everywhere
by Kim Sanford.
Ah. Who can resist the baby animals, especially after the long brutal winter we have had here in New York? While there are certainly foals arriving now, and have been since January, the season is about to ramp up in the next few months as the mares who were bred last year deliver the anticipated offspring of their owner’s dreams. Seeing the mamas and their babies enjoying the green pastures always makes me wonder what the future holds for them. What made their people decide to raise that foal? Where will their lives take them? Will they go on to race, show, work, and/or be treasured companions? Who would breed a horse when you can buy one for half the cost of breeding it? These are questions that breeders need to have the answers for….especially in these times.
There are some other questions breeders need to ask and answer themselves. If anyone is contemplating putting a foal on the ground they first need to think long and hard about WHY they want to breed these two individuals. What is the motivation behind the decision? Perhaps they need to evaluate the condition of the horse industry, and compare that to the economic condition of our country. There are so many things to consider before taking the plunge into horse breeding and creating another horse to swell the already abundant population. One only has to take a look at the local Craigslist Farm & Garden for sale section to see there is an overpopulation of horses and yet rampant “backyard breeding” continues.
Before I go further, I want to say that I am not anti-breeding in any way, shape, or form, but we NEED responsible, knowledgeable breeders who are not “barn blind” and who are in it to IMPROVE the breed. There are too many stallions that are mediocre who would be absolutely awesome geldings and too many mares that are bred just because they can be, not because they have anything to contribute to the breed.
So what, in my opinion is a “backyard breeder”? The following is a list of characteristics that seem to pretty accurately sum it up. If you fall into one or a combination of these descriptions, it may warrant a closer look at whether or not you should breed that mare or keep that colt a stallion. Honestly, in the past I have been guilty of this. In my defense I will say that we still have one of those 3 babies produced and she is now 17 years old, I also know where another one is and that she is thriving. Unfortunately do not know where the third one is. I was assured that she went to a good home but I have never been able to find anything out about that “good home” so I could assure myself that is true…I hope it is.
Of course I am riffing off of Jeff Foxworthy here,
You Might Be a Backyard Breeder IF You Are….
• Breeding two horses together because they’re available, not because the match is suited to produce a foal with improved conformation, or talent than the parents.
• Breeding for color (i.e. Roans, Grulla, Perlino, etc.) with no consideration of anything else.
• Breeding primarily for a breed type/trait (i.e. Arabian’s dished face, Quarter Horse’s large ‘hip’ or hindquarters, Bashkir Curly’s curly coat).
• Breeding large quantities of horses to be culled in order to find that singular ‘champion’ foal (the resulting foals being sold off in production sales or sent to slaughter houses in Mexico/Canada, shipped to Japan).
• Breeding genetically, conformational flawed, or otherwise inferior horses.
• Breeding horses at a financial loss.
• Breeding horses you are unable to appropriately care for (feed, farrier, vet).
I am sure we could add more to this backyard breeder traits list but you get the idea. The question remains. Why breed? It seems completely outrageous when one looks at the prices horses are advertised for. In many cases you will get the same horse at three years old for less than half the price. I can only hope that if you are thinking about breeding, before going any further, that you ask these questions and really think HARD and HONESTLY about the answers.
So going forward we will assume that you have asked the questions, evaluated your situation, considered the quality of your animals and so decided to go ahead and put that foal on the ground. You have a mare and you have narrowed your choices of the stallion down. What should you do at this point? If you are smart, you will start doing the math to see if you can afford to produce and then raise (or sale) the resulting foal. Of course finding the breakeven point or profit margin is a whole other subject.
The next step is to get an idea of the approximate costs involved in producing your foal. If you are new to the breeding business, you will soon discover that putting a foal on the ground can be an expensive proposition. Breeding can be as simple as turning a stallion in with a group of mares (pasture breeding), or it can be a sophisticated endeavor like importing frozen semen from a stallion located in another region, state, or country. In the case of AI (Artificial Insemination) the cost of getting your mare pregnant goes beyond the cost of the stud fee. You will be responsible for semen collection costs, semen transportation costs, veterinary examination fees prior to breeding, veterinary fees to artificially inseminate the mare and veterinary fees to determine that she is pregnant…and if this is not enough, it is likely that you will incur all of these several times before your mare catches. The breed average is about two breedings for each pregnancy.
The following is some information I found when I researched this topic. These are of course estimates where amounts occur and you should always check with your professionals to get a more concrete idea of the costs YOU would be taking on in your particular situation. It should also go without saying that your mare be in excellent health prior to being bred and she needs to be current with her innoculations.
(a) Stud Fee & Semen Collection Fees – Most farms charge a fee for collecting the semen, processing it and packaging it for shipment which is in addition to the stud fee. Stud fee costs vary widely depending on your choice of stallion. The most expensive are generally in the horse racing industry, but sporthorse stud fees can also be expensive ranging on average between $1500 and $3500 per season. This may or may not cover live foal guarantees. The amount of the collection fee varies from farm-to-farm but, on average, it is about $100. Since you probably will be breeding the mare two times, the total cost of collection is $200. Plus you will be charged a container deposit fee per collection.
(b) Semen Transportation costs - The semen will be shipped to you in an Equitainer or some similar, insulated container that you must purchase or rent. Add this to the next day Federal Express shipment your cost will be approximately $75 or $150 for the two shipments. Sometimes semen is shipped airport to airport and you will need to pick it up at the airport. Also bear in mind Customs and U.S.D.A. requirements for semen arriving from Canada or other nations will add to the cost and transit time.
(c) Veterinary expenses - Veterinary expenses add up quickly, particularly for the breeder using shipped semen. To start things off, the mare must be cultured and undergo a breeding soundness examination. Then will begin a series of ultra-sounding procedures to monitor her ovulation. Follicle growth must be closely monitored so that semen can be ordered to arrive a few hours before ovulation occurs. It's a tricky business. Miss by just a few hours and it is back to “square one”. She will then be inseminated and a series of ultra-sounds are taken over a period of days and weeks to determine whether she is in foal. Another thing to consider is testing your mare for any genetic issues such as HYPP, PSSM, HERDA, OLWS, etc. if there is any possibility that she is a carrier. It is also advisable to be aware of the stallion’s status genetically as well.
(d) Shipping mare to stud and mare care at the farm – If you are shipping your horse to the stallion you will have to figure in that cost as well. There is a per diem cost to cover the cost of your mare’s stay at the stallion’s home farm.
Mare Maintenance During Gestation:
(a) Board/Care - You can board your mare at a first-class farm for about $10-30 per day. Even if you keep your mare on your own property, a strong argument can be made for charging yourself the same price as it would cost to board her at a commercial farm. The labor you provide should be compensated at the same rate as it would be if someone else were providing it unless, of course, mucking stalls is your hobby. The value of your labor, feed, bedding, utilities, supplies, gas for the tractor, real estate taxes, a fair return on the value of your real estate and the dozens of other hidden expenses probably comes to no less than $10 per day. You can compute your own daily board costs depending upon your situation. Routine deworming is also recommended during the mare's pregnancy and again two to three days after foaling to minimize the transmission of parasites through the milk and in the environment.
(b) Veterinary Care - The expenses don't stop when the mare arrives home from the breeding farm. There are immunizations to prevent abortion and protect the unborn/newborn, an appropriate diet, dental care, and, if there are problems during the birthing process, additional veterinary bills. Here we will assume the mare is healthy and requires only routine checkups, shots, worming, etc. Veterinary costs associated with breeding are covered above. In this example let's assume a bare-bones veterinary cost of $15 per month. Not many people send their mares to professional people to ensure they foal safely. Service fees can go as high as $1350, vet bills can reach $1000 or higher if you use AI. Although specific vaccination schedules are difficult to recommend, these are the basic ones you will need to provide. Please consult your veterinarian for vaccinations that are appropriate for your farm and/or individual mare. At approximately one month prior to foaling, your mare should receive a tetanus toxoid, equine influenza, and Eastern/Western encephalomyelitis (4-way). Other vaccines that might be recommended include equine rhinopneumonitis (EHV-1/4), and rabies. If your farm lies within a deficient area, you should also supplement with Vitamin E and selenium during the mare's pregnancy to help prevent "white muscle disease" in the foal.
(c) Farrier Care - This cost will vary from mare-to-mare but in this example let's assume she goes unshod and is trimmed every 45 days (9 times in 13 months) at a cost of $30 per trim.
You must maintain the foal from the time of its birth until the day it is sold or longer if it is a personal horse.
(a) Board/Care - The board for your foal at a first-class farm is about $2 per day as a suckling and $15 per day as a weanling and yearling. Included in the board are some early lessons in leading, picking up the feet and in manners in general. For our example, let's assume that you will be raising your foal at home on your own farm and will hire someone to do the work or will pay yourself for doing it. We will assume that a fair cost is $2 per day for the first 6 months and $11 per day for 12 months.
(b) Veterinary Care - The foal will require an examination by your veterinarian within 24 hours of birth and over a period of months will need routine inoculations and worming. At some time or another, it will run a fever and may require a few stitches to close up a cut or two. If it is a colt and you plan on gelding him there is that expense. Let's say that the foal's vet bills average $20 per month over the 18 months for a total of $360. This leaves nothing for extraordinary vet expenses in the event that something seriously goes wrong.
(c) Farrier care - This is not an area that you will want to skimp on. Straight legs and orthopedic soundness are a must. Assume that the farrier will take a look at the foal every six weeks or about 12 times in 18 months. Sometimes no work will be required and only light rasping at other times. But, as the foal grows older, it will require complete trims and possibly shoes. Let's also assume that the farrier will check the foal as part of his visit to the farm to check all your other horse. As a result, on average, the 12 farrier checks will probably cost $30 each.
(d) Registration Process-Blood typing, Registration Fees, Genetic testing if applicable (recommended in light of the genetic issues we can now screen for)
Again, it is important that you gather cost information specific to your situation to determine the feasibility of breeding and raising that foal.
In conclusion I would like to revisit what I personally see as the ethics of breeding today. I cannot stress enough the importance of considering that this animal you are bringing into the world, with good care, can live up to and even beyond 30 years. It is vital that you have the best interests for it, and the species in general, at heart. Be sure that you have considered the logistics and the reality of breeding and raising a foal.
Assess your mare/stallion without those “rose colored glasses” to determine if it should be replicated…frankly speaking, as much as you love them it isn’t enough to justify breeding them in too many cases. You need to have a plan in place before conception.
Not to beat the proverbial “dead horse” but again, these are the questions every potential breeder (whether a business or an individual) should have in the forefront of their minds when deciding what direction to go:
(1) Is my mare/stallion a GREAT representative of the breed and will replicating s/he be an asset to the breed?
Take another look at the characteristics of t(2) Is there a market for this foal? This is an important question to answer even if you intend to keep it because you may change your mind one day.
(3) Am I willing to do everything within my power to ensure that the foal will not end up in a bad situation somewhere down the line? Admittedly, this can be a very difficult question to answer and I only put it out there to raise awareness of the situation so many horses face…there is a glut of horses taking that horrendous ride over the borders to slaughter, and it is directly related to indiscriminate breeding.
he backyard breeder listed earlier. If you’re breeding can you make it down the list without ticking a mental checkbox? If not now is the time to re-evaluate your decision, why you’re doing it and what you can do to contribute to a better future for the foals you’ve produced or may in the future. It doesn’t matter what breed you’re involved with you owe it to every horse you produce to be as educated and responsible for their lifetime-welfare as possible. This will, in time, eliminate the perceived need for horse slaughter and will do a huge service to the equine industry in this country.