Ground vs. Breeding Mount Semen Collection

We have show pony breeding stallions, and as of last year are doing almost all shipped semen. This year we are seriously thinking about expanding our business to offer semen collection and shipping services for outside stallions, which will involve improving our facilities. We're thinking about whether or not we need and can afford a dummy mount. We have so far used an old, quiet mare to mount our own stallions. We recently saw that semen collection can be done without a dummy mount or mare, with the stallion standing on all four feet. This sounds like it would work well for us, since these show ponies come in all sizes. If we use a dummy mount or a live mare mount, we'll need more than one size. Does this standing collection work with just certain stallions, most normal stallions, or all stallions? Do you still need a mare? What other equipment do you need? Do you need a breeding shed? We would appreciate any information and advice you can offer. Tammy

Ground semen collection works very well with most stallions with normal interest and arousal. Just as with a dummy mount, there is some variation in training time--from immediate success to a few tries. In most cases, it hardly matters much whether the stallion is a novice or an experienced breeder, and by what other methods the stallion has bred. The first reported use of ground semen collection for stallions in North America was for disabled horses which for some reason were unable or unsafe to mount a mare. Until recently, it was probably used mostly for such purposes rather than for convenience, economics, or efficiency. But ground collection is a particularly handy technique for a breeding station such as yours that serves a variety of sizes of stallions. I suppose you might be asked to work with anything from minis to Welsh cobs or Arabians, where it is not only a matter of different heights, but significantly different girths as well. It's a challenge to have the right size mount for every stallion.

Ground semen collection can be done either with your regular artificial vagina (AV) or with manual stimulation techniques in which the semen is collected in a non-spermicidal plastic bag. Manual stimulation is usually considered the simplest, but it might take a bit more effort for the technician and/or stallion to learn technique at first. As with AV use, there are considerations for safe and efficient semen handling in that system. Jim and Julia Crump of Roanoke AI published their successful use of the manual stimulation technique for routine semen collection on the ground in the 1980s. Since that publication, ground semen collection, both with an AV and with manual stimulation, has steadily increased in use in North America, both for routine convenience as well as for disabled stallions.

On your question about needing a mare, for an open stallion station such as you are considering, you probably should have at least one stimulus mare available. Considering all stallions, all of those which do ground collection, approximately one-half to two-thirds will respond adequately without a stimulus mare, especially once they get going. They learn the routine and become conditioned to respond to that without a mare. Super enthusiastic or rowdy stallions, in fact, often are more manageable and do better without any stimulus mare and with ground collection. You can temper their enthusiasm to just enough to get the job done.

Just as with a dummy mount, the remainder will still require a stimulus mare most or all of the time to achieve adequate arousal to respond efficiently. But unlike a mount mare, the stimulus mare can be just about any size, and might not need to be in good standing estrus as you would need for a stallion to safely mount. So it is less of a chore to have a stimulus mare than to have a mount mare for a variety of stallions.

Just as with a dummy mount, you will probably run into some stallions which will not be successful or efficient with ground collection. If you plan to accommodate all stallions, you'll probably need a good mount mare.

With ground semen collection, you don't necessarily need a designated area or breeding shed. With some stallions it is possible to work in the stallion's stall, in a stall similar to a wash rack, or in an outdoor paddock or along a fenceline. You need either a handler or some method of restraint appropriate to the behavior of the stallion. I have heard of people using a modified chute arrangement to safely restrain the stallion. We recommend good footing just as you would want for a breeding shed (non-slip, dust-free, some cushion, not too much drag). All the same general key features of any breeding shed would apply--quiet area out of busy traffic and distractions, obstacle-free, horse-friendly space and furnishings to avoid injuries, etc.

So why wouldn't everyone immediately switch to ground semen collection for stallions?

I find that if a breeding farm is all set up with a dummy mount or a good, dependable ovariectomized mount mare, and the team is comfortable and experienced with those methods, they might find mounted semen collection more natural, more organized, and safer than ground collection. With ground collection, most teams and stallions do readily become organized, and often report feeling safer and more efficient with ground collection than with a live mare or dummy mount. But all of these issues are certainly a matter of opinion and judgment.

In my experience, I have probably done more ground semen collection than mounted collections, and tend to see more advantages in most cases. But every once in a while we have a particular stallion (or a particular handling team or facility) with which it seems simpler and safer to mount the stallion on a good dummy with good footing rather than to collect on the ground.

At this point, it might be helpful for you to visit farms to observe ground and dummy semen collection to see first-hand what is involved. If you get on any of the Internet's equine reproduction or breed discussion lists, you'll likely be able to identify farms that will let you visit.

About the Author

Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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