Empty Mares – It’s a draw!

A mid summer’s nightmare for the mare owner/ breeder…empty mares. We started the last season feeling quite confident. New breeding technology articles and books were read, and we had consultations with our vet. We’ve spent hours looking through trade publications for the best stallion cross available. We’ve put the mares under lights, done cultures, cytologies, biopsies, palpations, and ultrasounds. Perhaps we’ve found her “dirty”, and have added flushes and oxytocin to our expense list. Let’s not forget ordering shipped or frozen semen, inseminations, and shipping charges. After many months of having our hope balloon burst…every 21 days, our frustration parameters have been met.

The loss is no less devastating for the single mare breeder than the large production farm. While an empty year for the hobby enthusiast means a considerable expense, with not even a tax deduction, a 20% barren rate on a breeding farm is a business disaster. Let’s take a farm with 100 broodmares. 20 mares have not settled, and must be put back to pasture for 7 months. Each have already incurred expenses, including daily care and vet, averaging over $2,000.00 for the 5 month breeding period. Add to that, It’s a draw!

A mid summer’s nightmare, for the mare owner/ breeder, … empty mares. We started the last season feeling quite confident. New breeding technology articles and books were read, and consultations had with our vet. We’ve spent hours looking through trade publications, for the best stallion cross available. We’ve put the mares under lights, done cultures, cytologies, biopsies, palpations, and ultrasounds. Perhaps we’ve found her “dirty”, and have added flushes and oxytocin to our expense list. Let’s not forget, ordering shipped or frozen semen, inseminations, and shipping charges. After many months of having our hope balloon burst, every 21 days, our frustration parameters have been met.

The loss is no less devastating for the single mare breeder than the large production farm. While an empty year for the hobby enthusiast means a considerable expense, with not even a tax deduction, a 20% barren rate on a breeding farm is a business disaster. Let’s take a farm with 100 brood mares. 20 mares have not settled, and must be put back to pasture for 7 months. Each have already incurred expenses, including daily care and vet, averaging over $2,000.00 for the 5 month breeding period. Add to that maintaining the mare for an additional 7 months and an additional $1,000.00. Multiply this by 20 mares, and we have at minimum, a $60,000.00 loss. Few businesses can continue taking hits like these. But let’s not stop here. We bought these good mares at an average of $10,000.00 each. We are now looking at a loss of over a quarter of a million dollars, that could escalate if we try and fail next year.

With a breeding farm, it is part of the cost of doing business. The IRS even have provisions for these losses. As “hobby” breeders, the IRS’s term for those of us who breed for profit, but slip between definition cracks, we have total emotional and monetary loss. A three horse backyard family, 4H project perhaps, getting 2 out of 3 mares in foal may not break even. This is not encouraging!

The fact is, no matter how I would like to give argument against the fact, under the most idyllic conditions, not all mares will become pregnant. SCIENCE MAY DICTATE, BUT MOTHER NATURE RULES! Human nature, on the other hand, is always predictable. Someone must be at fault. And we give ourselves multiple choices. Let’s start with the potency of the stallion, then the breeding manager, and/or staff. Next the air or shipping line, the vets, collector, container had been tampered with, even the weather can be blamed. Now fearing redundancy, I must repeat, perfectly timed, clean mares receiving excellent quality and correct quantity semen at the correct moment of ovulation, may not conceive or hold till ultrasound exam.

So far this has been a rather depressing chapter in our breeding chronicles. So let’s find a brighter scenario for this season. First, do not continue to breed your mare year round. There has been research done on mares bred in excess of three cycles, in hopes of conception. Interestingly, it was found that mares form a cycle of not conceiving. The uterus forms antibodies to the semen and conceptus. Turning her back out, or returning her to a show or pleasure life seems to improve her chances the following year. If you have lost more then one year, without finding a realistic problem, it might be wise to remove her from your breeding program. Selling or trading her is always optional. If she has great value, and it is within your budget, consider embryo transfer. Another possibility is changing stallions. Pick from a different genetic line, particularly if you were line breeding. Choose a stallion with an incredibly high conception rate, even if he was not your first choice. Often once you get your mare in foal, it is easy to repeat the success and thereby breaking her barren cycle.

Finally, I realize this may have no scientific backup, but I put barren mares in the pasture together with mares ready to foal and with new foals at their sides. Do not start to breed her early in the year, perhaps waiting till late March, and then breed. Allow Mother Nature to become involved. Your mares natural instincts will come into play when being in the company of the other.

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