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Artificial Breeding, AI...
Artificial Breeding, AI...

Using Artificial Breeding

When better than the first of the year to start thinking about breeding the mares and stallions?  As indicated by the number of inquiries we are receiving for information about artificial insemination, many of you are already well into the thought process.  We all would like to think our mares will be cycling at the end of February so we can breed for an early foal, but know deep down they will probably wait until early April just as they did last year.

The exception, of course, is the mare who has been under lights for 16 hours each day since the first of December.  These mares should be cycling regularly by the end of February.  So breeding season really is just around the corner.

Artificial breeding ( AI for "Artificial Insemination") is a successful and practical procedure.  Many mares are bred this way each year.  The percentage of breeding resulting in foals is higher for those bred by artificial insemination.  The reason for this success is due more to the way the mares are managed and far less to any improvement of the semen or breeding process.

The mares presented for AI are evaluated before breeding.  This includes the basic evaluation of body condition and general health.  The reproductive exam includes evaluation of the ovaries to confirm that they are functional and the mare is cycling.  The uterus is examined for size and--along with the cervix, vagina, and vulva--examined for discharge and infection.  If an infection is present it is treated appropriately.

If it has been some time since the last foal and/or if the mare is in her teens, we will take a biopsy of the uterine lining.  The results of a histopath exam of this tissue will tell us the percentage chance the mare has of conceiving and carrying the foal to term.  If the biopsy grade is low, we know the successful breeding of the mare will be challenging.  It may so challenging that the owner chooses not to invest in the higher stud fees often required of the stallion being collected.

 The above evaluation is the same we recommend of all mares prior to breeding.  Finding and correcting the problems will result in a higher pregnancy rate, but not all mares are evaluated before breeding naturally.  Sometimes in fact, little thought is given to the preparation needed for breeding until the mare is noticed in heat.  Then, due to the short time the mare is in heat, we may take her to the stallion as soon as we can catch his owner at home.  Unless the stallion owner has a health restriction requiring a negative coggins test ( which is required by law of those mares staying on the stallion’s farm), or if the stallion owner requires a negative culture of the uterus, this is sometimes possible.  It is this difference in preparation that results in the higher pregnancy rate for the mare bred by AI.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: because we pay more for AI, we make sure the mare is properly prepared-- but the TRUE COST of a failed breeding can be just as high for a “naturally” bred mare using our own stallion: no foal next spring!]

With the use of fresh cooled semen in all the breeds except the thoroughbred, the mare owner has the opportunity to use semen from stallions located all over the world.  If you would like more information, our office has a brochure published by the American Association of Equine Practitioners we will happily send [EDITOR'S NOTE: this INFO will soon be available on this website].  So dig into the stack of breed journals and start the enjoyable task of choosing a stallion.

From the boys’ standpoint, the use of Al offers opportunities as well.  If the demand is there, semen can be provided fresh cooled from your stallion to mares all over the world.  There are a few factors to consider.  I will list them for now and use a future column to discuss them further.  They should be considered before committing to proved semen.  Once that commitment is made, it will be up to the stallion owner (and the veterinarian) to provide semen.  By considering a few factors in advance, this job can be made much easier.  These factors include:
preparing a contract
deciding on fees
setting a schedule for collection
arranging to have mares in heat for collection
choice of container for shipping
and your ability to handle the stallion for collection (usually in the morning to be ready for shipping).

These do not make collecting and shipping semen impractical, but should be considered and planned before taking orders for semen.  More on this enjoyable aspect of reproduction later.

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