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To breed or not to breed

Considerations Before Deciding to Breed

Breeding from your mare can be an amazing and rewarding process. Although there is limited potential for breeding to be profitable, it can be very satisfying to watch a progeny you bred go on to have a successful competition career or become a reliable leisure horse. Careful consideration needs to be taken before deciding to breed.

To ensure the process is as positive as possible and is the right decision, it is essential to take an honest look at your mare and situation before going ahead. If anything goes wrong, the experience can be hugely traumatic for the people and horses involved.

Top tip

Taking the time to ‘think before you breed’, planning ahead and having your mare clinically assessed by a vet before making the decision to breed, will give you the best chance of a positive outcome.

Breeding indiscriminately and without consideration for the long-term future of the foal has important welfare implications. There are more horses in this country than there are knowledgeable and experienced people willing and able to care for them. The number of horses in sanctuaries nationwide proves this, as the cycle of neglect continues to be a major problem in the UK.

It is somewhat of a myth that breeding your own foal will be cheaper than buying a horse. The costs involved for the breeding process and then keeping of the foal until it is old enough to be backed, soon add up. It’s important not to cut corners as breeding a poor-quality foal can predispose them to health issues that could affect their future use and quality of life.

We all have a responsibility to think carefully before breeding a foal. Even if you plan to provide a home for the foal for life, you should consider whether the foal is likely to have any commercial value. Even with the best of intentions, we can never predict what lies ahead and your circumstances could change almost overnight. As horses nowadays frequently live well into, and beyond, their twenties, breeding a foal is a huge commitment and you must consider whether someone else is likely to want your foal if you find yourself no longer able to care for it.

Thinking about breeding?

If you are thinking about putting your mare in foal the first consideration must be asking the question ‘what is the aim of breeding from this mare?’

  • Are you aiming to breed a competition horse?
  • Is the horse being bred as a recreational allrounder?
  • Do you intend to sell the foal?
  • Do you intend to keep the horse to ride yourself?

Each situation will impact on the decisions you will have to make.

Other considerations include:

  • Is the mare suitable to breed from?
  • What costs are involved?
  • Do you have access to the facilities required?

If you are breeding with the aim of selling the foal, you will need to look carefully at the costs involved and whether you are likely to profit. Cost is less of an issue if you are intending to keep the foal, however it is still an important factor and should be carefully considered to ensure the correct level of finances are in place.

Above all there must be one resounding aim, which is to breed a horse that is healthy, sound and of good temperament for training regardless of its intended use. The underlying focus of any decision to breed is that welfare is key. Breeding horses that are predisposed to later lameness issues due to conformational faults, or that aren’t suitable for their intended purpose, is considered a welfare issue. These horses are difficult to rehome and may end up in unsuitable homes.

Want to know more?

World Horse Welfare have produced a short film and a leaflet supporting their ‘Need to breed?’ initiative. This encourages horse owners to consider the impact of breeding from the perspective of a welfare organisation.


Is your Mare suitable to breed from?

Your mare must have the correct qualities to be suitable to breed from. Things to think about include:

  • Why you are breeding from her
  • Her conformation
  • If there are any previous or current injuries or medical conditions
  • Her temperament
  • Her age

Start by assessing the mare’s conformation and making a list of her strengths and weaknesses in relation to soundness and also her ability to potentially carry and deliver a foal. Does she have any undesirable conformation traits that could potentially be passed onto the foal? Ask your coach or vet for help and advice to do this objectively.

Did you know...?

There are a number of unwanted hereditary conditions that must not be present in a breeding mare, examples of these include; sweet itch, sarcoids, equine asthma and any chronic heritable lameness. If your mare has any medical conditions speak to your vet to check these cannot be passed on to the foal.

If a mare is injured and is no longer able to work in the short or long term, it can be a tempting proposition to breed from her, however there are a number of factors to consider. If the mare’s conformation predisposed her to injury, she shouldn’t be bred from. The mare shouldn’t be put in foal if the added weight of pregnancy will be detrimental to her recovery, or worsen her injury and cause further pain. It is also important to consider how long the breeding process will take, especially if the mare is a competition horse as there will be a window of time where the mare will be out of action.

Choosing to breed from a mare because she cannot be ridden should take careful consideration. If she isn’t ridden because she is difficult or dangerous to ride, consider whether this is linked to any physical attributes of the mare or her temperament. There is a chance this trait could also be present in the foal and the same problems may occur as they mature.

The optimal age for a breeding mare is 3 – 14 years old. Many mares will successfully produce foals well in to their 20’s however after the age of 14 there may be a reduced chance of her conceiving. If the mare is maiden she is to some extent an unknown quantity, whereas a mare who has had a foal before presents less risk as you will know she has carried and delivered a healthy foal.

Did you know...?

A mare who has never had a foal before is called a maiden mare.


Knowledge and Time

Before deciding to breed it is important to do your research as to what is involved. This will highlight the amount and type of help you may need, the time commitments and the costs involved.

Top Tip

Take the time to fully research each step and highlight any areas where you will require support. You can then factor this in when you are considering the costs.

Areas to research include:

  • The number and type of vet visits required
  • Stud fees, terms and conditions
  • Routine care of a pregnant mare
  • Foaling
  • Care of the mare and foal

The vet will need to carry out scans to find out where the mare is in her cycle before insemination and then again later on to confirm the pregnancy. This can be time consuming if you have the mare at your yard especially if multiple visits are required. Many owners choose to send the mare to a stud, whilst there is a cost to this, there are staff on site so scanning can be done as frequently as required and the mare then inseminated at the optimum time.

There will be certain parts of the breeding process where you may require professional help, namely the birth of the foal. There are risks involved with this and whilst most mares foal without any complications, you must be aware of the risks if the birth doesn’t go to plan. You can send your mare to a stud to give birth, if you are not experienced this is often the best option. A stud should have facilities designed for this purpose, such as, foaling boxes with CCTV so the mare can be observed from a distance, and experienced staff on hand who will be able to identify any problems should they occur and act quickly.

Alternatively, if you wanted your mare to foal at home there are courses available that you can attend so you are fully prepared and educated as to the risks involved, what to observe for and how to react if there is a problem. The mare will need 24 hour monitoring as she gets close to her due date, this can mean several days or weeks of regular checking for signs of foaling which is a big commitment for any horse owner. Consider how you would manage this and what help you might need during this time.

Want to know more?

Twemlows Stud Farm offer a ‘Foaling the Mare’ course.



Consider whether you have the knowledge, experience, skills and time to provide the best start in life for the foal. Correct, safe and consistent handling and training throughout the early years will be the owner’s responsibility. It is essential that there is a mutual respect between the foal/young horse and handler, so the foal grows to be confident and well mannered. It is important to consider the length of this education, to produce a ridden horse you are looking at consistent training and education of the young horse up to 5/6 years old. There is also the future consideration of backing and training the horse to be ridden, and whether you intend to do this yourself or send the horse to a training yard. You must consider the extra costs involved with this, and the cost of any help required.

Top Tip

Foals may seem cute, but even at a young age horses are powerful animals and are potentially dangerous. They require consistent correct handling.


Want to know more?

You can find information from a variety of sources:

  • Your vet will be able to provide advice specific to your mare and situation.
  • Studs provide a wide range of advice, as well as providing information about their own stallions and foaling down livery services
  • Feed companies are able to provide free advice about the nutritional requirements for your mare and foal throughout the breeding process. Independent nutritionists can also be consulted for advice.
  • Breed societies may also be a point of contact if you have a specific breed of horse
  • The Rare Breeds Survival Trust do important work to help preserve rare breeds and will be a good point of contact if considering breeding a native or rare breed of horse or pony.
  • The British Breeding website is a very useful site with a wealth of information.

 

Facilities Required

Do you have the facilities required to look after a mare and foal safely? You may be able to make adjustments on your yard so it is suitable, but this may come at an extra cost. If your facilities are not suitable you may need to find an alternative yard or grazing.

Grazing

Have you got enough good quality grazing? Good grazing is essential for the mare in foal and usually the main source of nutrients for the mare after she has given birth. Turn out is required for the mare and foal as a source of exercise, and 24 hour turn out is preferable in the spring and summer months. Turn out areas need to be checked for small gaps or holes in the boundary that a foal could fit through. If post and rail fencing is used, consider whether the bottom rail is low enough to stop a foal from rolling underneath. Streams or ponds can be hazardous to a foal and should be safely fenced of

Stabling

If your mare is foaling at home, you will require a stable which is big enough to accommodate both the mare and foal, but most importantly provide enough space when the mare is foaling. A square 14ft by 14ft foaling box is recommended. Whilst 16ft by 12ft boxes are large enough, if a mare decides to foal laying across the stable 12ft is often not wide enough to deliver the foal and it can become stuck against the wall. The size of the box is relative to the size of horse, so smaller boxes would be appropriate for smaller horses and ponies. It is essential that all stabling is draught free but with good ventilation

Company

Another aspect to consider is the company available for the mare and foal. Having at least one other mare and foal is desirable as the foal will then have a companion of a similar age to play with. This is also beneficial later on at the weaning stage.


The Potential Costs

There are many costs associated with breeding and not all of them are obvious. Taking the time to work through the potential costs is essential for anyone who wants to breed from their mare. In the interest of the welfare of the foal and its future, you should not breed if you cannot afford to.

The basic cost of breeding from conception to birth, (based on a mare that conceives on the first attempt) is about £2500, but could range anywhere between £1000 - £5000. This figure doesn’t include livery, feed, farrier costs or other fees relating to the general care of the mare and foal. If it takes more than one attempt for the mare to conceive or there are complications during the pregnancy or birth the cost will increase.

The following are the types of costs you will need to consider:

  • Pre breeding assessment of the mare with a vet. Approximately £150.
  • Stallion/stud fee. Be aware of the terms you are purchasing the stud fee on, options include; no foal no fee, no foal free return (this may be one attempt or could be up to three attempts or more), live foal guarantee or the fee may only include one attempt/covering. Stud fees usually range between £500 - £1500 but can be more depending on the stallion.
  • In addition to the stud fee you will also need to factor in further costs in relation to the delivery of the semen, this could include postage, delivery and/or collection costs. Approximately £100
  • There will be a cost for Artificial Insemination (AI) and if this is done at a stud there may be additional costs for boarding the mare. Cost will vary according to the type of semen (fresh, chilled or frozen) and ranges between £300 - £450.
  • Vet visits during pregnancy. Most vets will provide a pregnancy package with a single cost to cover scans – but there may still be further costs to consider outside of this. Depending on the package, costs range between £100 - £250.
  • Facilities – do any of your current facilities need to be adapted? For example, a larger stable for foaling or adaptations to fields/fencing.
  • Grazing availability – do you have enough grazing? If not, you may need to seek additional grazing at a cost.
  • Foaling down (all the below will incur different costs)
    • At a stud with experienced professionals onsite. Approximately £400, plus boarding at £10 per day for grass livery (stabling could be up to £30 per day).
    • At home or livery – you may need to call a professional to come out at an additional cost
    • At home or livery – you may need to attend training to ensure you are aware of what to do. Training package approximately £200.
  • Vet fees for a post foaling check and Immunoglobulin test (IgG). There may be further vet’s fees if there are any complications.
  • Livery cost increase (extra cost once foal is born). Check with your livery yard how much extra they will charge for the foal.
  • Consider all the costs involved with keeping your horse, most of these will also apply to the foal so general monthly/yearly expenditure will increase; livery, worming/targeted testing, farriery, vaccinations, insurance.
  • Consider the continual increase of costs from foal to riding horse.

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