The Cost of Putting a Foal on the Ground
- Jan 1, 2006
If you are new to the breeding business, you will soon realize 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, or it can be as sophisticated as importing frozen semen from a highly acclaimed stallion located in another country.
Science has taken some of the mystery and chance out of breeding, but that progress has come at a price--literally. The monetary cost of utilizing the latest research is usually picked up by the mare owner. Yes, you can use embryo transfer to get a foal from that valuable broodmare who can't carry a pregnancy to completion, but the foal had better be worth about $10,000 or more when it's a weanling to make economic sense of the venture, because the procedure can cost you $5,000 or more depending on locale and circumstances. And that doesn't include the stallion's breeding fee.
So, just what is involved financially in putting a foal on the ground if a more straightforward approach than embryo transfer is involved?
It starts with the mare. In the beginning you must have a mare you feel is good enough to produce a good offspring. If you don't already own such a mare, a purchase is necessary. For some conservative folks, this might involve buying a mare for $2,000 or less. For others, it might involve becoming the highest bidder at auction for a mare selling for $500,000 or more.
Whatever the purchase price, the mare then must be fed and cared for during gestation and while the foal is at her side after birth.
A wide variation exists in cost of care, just as it does in cost of purchase. If you have your own farm with grass in the summer and hay that is harvested for winter feed, the cost will be far less than if you board at a private facility and pay a fee for care. However, there will be other costs that will be the same whether dealing with a $2,000 mare or one that is worth far more. These expenses involve immunizations, deworming, dental care, hoof care, and overall good husbandry.
Coverings and Other Costs
The next decision involves the stallion you select. Once again there can be wide variance. The popular stallions in any given discipline will be more expensive than those that haven't been proven.
A case in point: One year a fellow rancher who was switching to using Paint stallions in his breeding program was at loose ends as to what to do with his registered Quarter Horse breeding stallion that was a buckskin. He didn't have an immediate market for the horse, but because of his pasture breeding approach with Paint stallions, he had run out of space for housing the buckskin. He said that if we would take the buckskin stallion off his hands for the breeding season, we could breed whatever mares we desired and he would sign the breeding certificates so they could be registered Quarter Horses if the mares were registered, which they were.
We agreed to his plan and turned four Quarter Horse mares in with the stallion for pasture breeding. All four conceived on the first cover, and the next spring the mares presented us with four fillies, all of which were quality ranch-type horses.
In contrast, the next year we booked our top cutting mare to an acclaimed stallion standing at a ranch on the Oklahoma-Texas border. The breeding fee was $4,500, which included a non-refundable booking fee of $500. The owners were reluctant to ship semen, so the mare was transported from Wyoming to the breeding farm.
(I relay this information because the situation described is typical of what normally happens and what is generally charged when a mare is sent to a breeding farm.)
The spring the four fillies were born, we paid the non-refundable fee and transported the cutting horse mare (not one of the four bred to the buckskin the year earlier) to the selected stallion's home ranch for breeding. She had a colt at her side. That meant an outlay for fuel to transport mare and foal to the breeding location, updated Coggins tests, and health certificates. To protect our investment, we insured the mare and the foal at her side for full mortality, which added to the cost total.
Other costs followed, including board. For the first two days the mare and foal were at the breeding facility, they were placed in a quarantine barn for observation. The cost for stall board was $16 per day for those two days. After passing through quarantine, they were quartered with other mares and foals in a pasture at a cost of $11 per day.
The mare arrived at the breeding farm on May 30 and remained there until July 15, at which point she was declared to be safely in foal. Along the way, there were veterinary expenses. She was given five ultrasound exams and, in the wake of breeding, was given three pregnancy exams. The mare was bred by artificial insemination on site. Other veterinary expenses involved injections of hCG, prostaglandin, and oxytocin (to manage her cycle). In addition, the mare was dewormed shortly after arrival and vaccinated for Strep A and B.
This farm was typical of many in that it billed us for board and other farm-related expenses while the veterinarian billed us directly for the services conducted by his clinic. This information is not meant to suggest that any of the expenses were exorbitant; they are normal for many cutting horse breeding farms.
Fortunately for us, the mare got pregnant with the first breeding and was at the breeding farm only 1 1/2 months. If she had not settled on the first breeding, the expenses for boarding, palpations, ultrasound exams, and drugs would have continued.
About 11 months later, the mare presented us with a strong, healthy foal that we just know will win the Cutting Horse Futurity championship in Fort Worth in his 3-year-old year.
It is economically important that he continues to be a quality foal because when everything is totaled--the cost of maintaining the mare during and after gestation, breeding fee, transportation, board, veterinary bills--we would have to sell the youngster for $7,500-$10,000 just to break even. This does not include any consideration for the purchase price of the mare.
Contrast that with the four fillies produced with negligible expense and very little effort via pasture breeding. While the fillies are nice ranch horses, they will never sell for high-dollar amounts. The colt might, but that is not assured. There could be injury, changes in the market, or any one of a number of factors along the way that could affect his worth. No matter how you cut it, breeding remains a gamble that does not end when the foal hits the ground.
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.
Some owners either are unable or do not choose to accept the responsibility of having a mare in their care, custody, and control when she foals. The cost of foaling out a mare at a breeding farm, not counting board and veterinary costs, often will run from $300 on up. If the mare remains at the breeding farm for breeding and is kept in a stall with lights, the cost would be in the neighborhood of $16 per day and up. Many veterinarians also offer a foaling out service. Costs vary by location and practice.
Other Approaches to Breeding
The good news is that there are options today when we do not want to transport the mare to the stallion. The most common approach is to have cooled semen shipped to the mare. When this is the choice, it behooves the mare owner and his or her veterinarian to know exactly what is to be expected and being provided at both the shipping and the receiving end before the first semen shipment is made.
During the 2002 Horseman's Day, which was held as part of the AAEP Convention in Ocala, Fla., Michelle LeBlanc, DVM, Dipl. ACT, a reproduction specialist with Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., suggested to horse owners that the following points should be clarified before semen is shipped:
- The cost of stallion collection (average range: $100-$300).
- The cost of preparing the semen for shipment (usually included with the cost of collection), the number of collections provided gratis (if any), the cost of shipping semen tanks by air, and when and how the semen tanks must be returned (typically within 48-72 hours after shipment).
- The days of the week the stallion is collected (varies greatly from every day to three days a week).
- Times during the breeding season when the stallion will not be available.
- The number of days notice that the stallion manager needs before the semen shipment (varies greatly, can be anywhere from the morning of to 40+ hours notice).
- The latest time one can call to obtain semen. (In one of my shipped cooled semen contracts, the stallion manager had to be notified by 5 p.m. on the day preceding shipment. In many cases, more advance notice than that is required.)
- The longevity of the semen--does it live in the tank for 12, 24, or 36 hours? (This varies by stallion; some semen should not even be shipped.)
- First-cycle conception rate of the stallion (varies with stallion; ideally should be 60% or better).
- The method of transport used--will it be shipped same-day air or overnight shipment?
- Number of times the mare can be bred if she does not conceive (which can be related to the amount of semen shipped, or fertility of the mare).
- Breed registry requirements, and the number and timing of post-insemination clinical (pregnancy) examinations must be established.
(Cost and time estimate information provided by Pete Sheerin, DVM, Dipl. ACT, a theriogenologist at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky.)
Most of this information will be spelled out clearly in the contract between the stallion and mare owners, but nothing should be left to chance. If there is a question, clarify before entering into an agreement. Misunderstandings can be costly.
The cost of shipping semen is handled in various ways. One stallion station might charge a specific rate that covers three or four shipments. Another might provide the first shipment free, but charge $200 or more for each subsequent shipment.
Most breeders will offer a live foal guarantee. Basically, this means that the foal will stand and nurse without assistance. If that doesn't happen, the mare normally is entitled to a rebreeding. However, the contract should be clear on this. With some stallion stations, if a foal isn't produced by the first year's breeding, the mare will be rebred, but must be taken to the stallion station rather than being rebred with cooled shipped semen.
Embryo transfer is gaining in popularity, but still doesn't have a pregnancy rate that equals that of natural cover or breeding with shipped cooled semen. The reproduction experts estimate that if both the mare and stallion are fertile, the pregnancy rate of the recipient per cycle is 50-60%. However, if either the mare or the stallion has fertility problems, the embryo transfer success rate drops drastically.
The price can go up when frozen semen is involved. First, it has been pointed out at a number of theriogenology gatherings that not all stallions have semen that can withstand the rigors of freezing, so knowledge of that capability would be a prime requisite before purchasing frozen semen. We also are told timing is critical, which can translate into higher vet bills for multiple examinations.
It is not cheap to put a foal on the ground, so one should seek every advantage possible, beginning with a quality, reproductively healthy mare and a fertile stallion. Then, if Nature is smiling on you, a pregnancy will be followed by a safe birth and the production of the horse you have always dreamed of owning.
About the Author
Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at www.exclusivelyequine.com or by calling 800/582-5604.
POLL: University Equine Hospitals