Q. It's getting close to the breeding season. What are some tips on getting my stallion, my crew, and myself ready for the onslaught?

A. How you get a stallion ready for the breeding season depends on many things, but basically you can break it down into getting new stallions introduced into the breeding routine, and a refresher course for experienced stallions. With either kind, it's important to remember the basic health aspect of the horse. You want the stallion to go into the season in the best shape possible.

Look at the physical condition of the stallion. Is he overweight, or underweight? Is he getting out and getting exercise? It's good for a stallion to get out as much as possible not only for exercise, but for his overall well-being. Make sure his teeth are okay. He should be on a regular vaccination schedule, including equine viral arteritis for Thoroughbred stallions in Kentucky. All of his vaccinations should be given 60 days before the breeding season starts. That way, if he has a reaction to the vaccination and gets sick or has a fever, it won't affect his breeding ability. In general, avoid vaccinating stallions in the middle of the breeding season because a high fever can affect sperm production, and sperm take about 60 days to mature in the stallion. Vaccination for vector-borne diseases might make it necessary to vaccinate during the breeding season, however.

Also make sure the stallion has been on a good deworming program. If you have an older stallion, keep an eye on him during the season. He might need some medication for his normal aches and pains.

For any stallion, I recommend a breeding soundness exam prior to the breeding season. This includes collecting semen from the stallion and evaluating the semen. This gives you a baseline to evaluate the stallion, or can help you find problems early and allow you to manage the stallion differently. Then, if there is any problem during the breeding season, you have a baseline to go back to and compare. This may be helpful in identifying a particular problem.

That's a problem with natural covers like in Thoroughbreds--you just see mares not getting pregnant. With artificial insemination, you collect the stallions routinely and you may see changes in the semen parameters. It's especially important to do a pre-season breeding soundness exam with stallions used for AI because you can see what to expect before the breeding season begins.

Another point with stallions collected for AI is that you need to test the stallion for EVA--you don't want to be shipping a virus somewhere else. Remember, if you preserve the sperm, you are preserving the virus, too.

With a new stallion, whether a young horse or one new to your operation, you need to learn as much about him as possible. If he was on the track or in training for performance, try to find out if he was on any medications. There are no drugs that enhance fertility, but many have the potential to hurt fertility.

Learn his personality. Is he aggressive or timid? What are his vices? Then you work with him accordingly. Deal with the horse on an individual basis, and get him to the farm in plenty of time to work with him before the season begins.

Have the same handler--an experienced stallion person--work with the stallion consistently. Don't reprimand him for acting like a stallion. Let him look around the breeding shed. Turn him loose in there by himself, if possible, and let him mark his territory and get comfortable without the presence of people or other horses.

When you introduce a new stallion to a mare, make sure she's an older, experienced mare in good heat who's healthy. Don't wash her or him the first time or two, that just takes away her smell and distracts him. We tend to make things artificial too soon. Let him get interested in mares, and if he wants to jump the mare, let him, assuming all precautions to avoid injury are taken.

Once he starts getting into the routine, then you can start washing him. Use only warm (slightly warmer than body temperature) water before and after breeding. If you use cotton, which isn't always necessary, make sure all the cotton is rinsed off. Don't use soap or disinfectants. They destroy normal bacteria and often let others flourish, like pseudomonas. Also, some products could be spermicidal if not rinsed
off well.

With a new stallion which will be collected for AI, you might want to train him to a phantom. If so, do it before the breeding season starts.

With an older stallion it is just a matter of re-introducing him to his routine. If he is experienced and just new to your farm, try to find out from his previous handlers his idiosyncrasies and routines and try to adjust your management to help him settle into his new surroundings. Some older stallions have quirks, and it's good to know them before the season starts. Some stallions hate to breed maiden mares. Some stallions don't like certain color mares or certain size mares. Some don't like the breeding apron put on a mare.

Learn as much as you can about your stallion before the season starts, and the season will go much smoother.

About the Author

John Steiner, DVM

John Steiner, DVM, is associated with the Hagyard-Davidson-McGee veterinary firm near Lexington, Ky., and specializes in reproductive problems.

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