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On the Mare Side

Breeding is an Expensive Proposition. Good Mare Management is Your Best Investment

When breeding with transported semen (TS), the mare owner is responsible for some of the tasks that would ordinarily be performed by the stud farm. Good mare management at home requires some diligence on your part but it will save you money and allow you to breed to the stallion of your choice.

The success or failure of breeding with transported semen is largely the on the shoulders of the mare owner. The most fertile stallion cannot get your mare in foal if she has reproductive problems or is bred at the wrong time.

Below is a brief summary about using transported semen to breed your mare. (This information is excerpted from the Mare Owners Handbook.)

Fertility in the Mare

Did you know that:

  • the mare is the least fertile of all domestic animals?
  • the percentage of live foals in the breeding population is only 55%?
  • many of the mares reproductive problems are cause by man?

The mare is seasonal breeder, naturally cycling from April or May to early fall. Early in the spring, the mare's estrous (heat) behavior is usually erratic and extended. This is commonly referred to as the "transition period." During this time, the mare may appear to have strong estrous behavior but, in fact, is not yet ovulating. It is easy for the breeder to be deceived by these early non-ovulatory heats and inseminate at an inappropriate time.

Another reason for the mare's low fertility is the difficulty in detecting ovulation. The goal is to determine the optimum time to inseminate but ovulation can occur at any time (normally ovulation occurs toward the end of estrus).

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The Mares Health

Your mare will have the best chance of getting in foal and staying in foal if she is in good physical condition, regularly wormed and up to date on all her inoculations. Some mare may have difficulty getting or staying in foal if they are under stress, caused by by activities such as a rigorous show schedule and extensive traveling. Grossly overweight mares are difficult to get in foal and the thin mare will often appear to cycle yet will not ovulate.

A thorough reproduction examination for your mare is a good investment. Before your mare is bred, the veterinarian will want to check that she has no reproductive abnormalities, that she is cycling normally, is in good general health and is free of genital infection.

To detect uterine infection, most veterinarians feel that a uterine culture should be performed on your mare during heat. Since it is easy to miss colonies of bacteria when swabbing the uterus, one culture may not be completely reliable. Therefore, it is recommended that another culture is taken if your mare fails to conceive after two heats.

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Teasing - The Foundation of Good Mare Management

You must be religious about teasing your mare. Teasing holds the key to successful conception and it only takes five minutes a day. While it is preferable to use a stallion to tease with, a gelding may also be used. If your mare has strong heats and shows clearly, you can use a gelding as long as he is not regularly turned out with her. For mares that do not show strong heats, geldings may be given a shot of testosterone or Equipoise to get the gelding to act like a stallion. (These effects are temporary.)

Remember - teasing is just as important after the mare has been bred as it is before insemination. It is essential to know whether or not the mare needs to be re-bred. On average, only 50% - 65% of mares get in foal on the first heat breed.

If you have no access to a stallion or suitable gelding, your veterinarian will start your mare on a course of Regumate. This will help regulate the estrus cycle so that the approximate breeding time becomes more predictable.

You must determine the characteristic estrus behavior of your mare. Although different mares exhibit different behavior, this behavior will usually remain consistent for each mare.

It is very important that you establish the normal cycle for your mare and keep good records. Note the date when your mare first starts to cycle, the length of her heats and any behavioral characteristics she displays. The first and last day of heat should be recorded so you can recognize when her heats begin to arrive on a regular 21 day cycle. The duration of the heat is 5-7 days for most mares.

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Communication with the Stud Farm is Vital

Long distance breeding is a partnership and you must assume the responsibility of keeping in close contact with the stud farm. Also, be sure to have all the required paperwork completed and returned to the stud farm promptly. Failure to do so may result in a missed breeding.

Call the stud farm on the first day of your mare's heat to let them know that a shipment will soon be required. As soon as the veterinarian palpates your mare and chooses the date to breed, notify the stud farm so that your shipments can be scheduled. Individual stud farms may have different rules about time restrictions for scheduling and collections. For instance, some farms may not be able to ship semen on Sundays unless they are close to an airport. Do not assume that the stud you are working with this year has the same requirements as the stud farm you worked with the previous year. It is best to clarify these points when you initially sign the breeding contract. Also, be aware of any time zone differences!

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Important Pointers for Insemination with Transported Semen

  • Do not open the Equitainer until the veterinarian is present and ready to inseminate.
  • For best results, try to inseminate within 24 hours of collection.
  • DO NOT WARM THE SEMEN PRIOR TO INSEMINATION. Simply use a syringe that is slightly warmer than the semen. The mare is the best "warmer" and offers the ideal conditions for the semen.
  • Research has shown that certain syringes can be toxic to stallion sperm. It is recommended that AirTite brand syringes without rubber stoppers are used for insemination. If you cannot obtain an AirTite syringe and an alternate brand is used, leave the semen in the syringe for the shortest time possible.
  • Since many sterile gloves and pipettes contain toxic substances, it is important to minimize the length of time the semen is exposed to them.
  • Remember that cooled semen is more fragile than fresh semen and any harmful substances or procedures will have a greater effect on cooled semen
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Procedure for Insemination

Insemination should only be performed by your veterinarian or a certified reproductive specialist.

Step 1: Make a positive identification of the mare by comparing her in every detail with her breeding identification passport.

Step 2: Prepare the mare.

  • Wrap her tail well. A plastic rectal sleeve slipped over her tail and taped in place ensures cleanliness.
  • Scrub the surrounding 10 inches of the mare's genital area with a good cleaning solution and warm water. If a Betadine solution is used, the area must be rinsed thoroughly as it leaves a spermicidal residue.

Step 3: Set up all items needed for insemination (sterile insemination pipet, AirTite syringe, gloves, sleeves, etc.). Any item that comes in direct contact with the semen should be slightly warmer the semen.

Step 4: Remove the packet of semen (white) from the Equitainer. Invert the packet gently a few times to mix sperm cells that have settled to the bottom of the pack.

Step 5: Draw the insemination volume into the slightly warmer AirTite syringe. (It is recommended that a small volume be left in the packet if you wish to check the motility of the sample.)

Step 6: Inseminate immediately.

Step 7: Complete the required paperwork and return it and the Equitainer to the stud farm promptly.

Note: Some stud farms will be shipping entire ejaculates and some will be splitting ejaculates. It is important the farm notifies you about their procedures. The type of antibiotic used in the extender should also be noted.

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Follow Up

Five days after the last day your mare is bred, you should begin the teasing regimen again. Mares that have an infection will sometimes recycle as early as 6 days after the end of their last heat. This information is essential since early recycling could mean that she has an undetected infection or other disorder.

Ultrasound diagnosis may be conducted as early as 15 days after ovulation. If no ultrasound machine is available, your veterinarian will palpate the mare to determine pregnancy, usually between 18 to 21 days after she was last bred. Additional ultrasound or palpation sessions should be scheduled to check for early fetal loss and twinning.

If your mare comes back into heat, notify your veterinarian immediately. The veterinarian must determine whether or not it is a false heat. 30% of all mares show heat when they are actually in foal.

Many breeding contracts stipulate that you must have your mare examined for pregnancy and report the results to the stud farm by certain dates after the last day bred. Your live foal guarantee may become null and void if you do not abide by these deadlines.

It is important that all required paperwork is signed, notarized and returned to the stud farm per your agreement.

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