In this Q&A Clarice Cooper explains about artificial insemination and how importing semen from abroad can open up a wealth of champion bloodlines.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of artificial insemination?
There are many advantages to AI; the main advantage being a large number of stallions to choose from to improve the quality of the breed. You no longer have to go to the expense of shipping your mare to the stud farm, risking injury in transport or in the breeding shed, due to an aggressive stud or mare. The ability to breed multiple mares with one ejaculate increases the longevity of the breeding stallion and, with the advancements of freezing semen, mares can be bred long after the stallion has passed on. Mares that have difficulty becoming pregnant can now be inseminated by ‘deep uterine insemination’, possibly reducing the incidences of post-breeding Endometritis and allowing a great stud with poor semen quality to be utilised.
As for the disadvantages, some stallions’ semen just does not ship well. There are major advances in equine reproductive techniques and technology today that vastly improves semen quality but there are a few stallions out there that have a much better conception rate by live cover.
What is the difference between frozen and chilled semen?
Chilled semen is semen that can be used within 24 to 48 hours post collection of the stallion. Frozen semen has, to our knowledge today, an indefinite life span. Frozen semen can also be shipped any time to the mare owner’s vet clinic and be on hand to breed your mare.
What is the extra cost/risk associated with importing semen from the USA?
The costs lay highly on the stallion owner. It costs them a lot more money to have their stallion’s semen frozen and exported abroad. They make a bigger profit from breedings sold in the country the stallion is standing.
Shouldn’t I be supporting the ‘home’ market and using a domestic stallion?
In any type of breeding arena, whether it be dogs, cattle or horses, the objective is to produce a fantastic individual thereby improving the breed. When you limit your genetic options, you inhibit the possibility of improving the breed. Introducing new bloodlines into a limited gene pool can only improve the quality of the ‘home’ stock, putting it on the map and driving the industry to be competitive in markets other than the US. For Western Pleasure and Hunter horses, in particular, it is worth remembering that there aren’t many stallions standing in the UK and most of those that are standing were imported from the US themselves.
I have an all-around mare. She is nothing special but I love her. She is getting older now and I want to breed the ‘next-generation.’ Am I kidding myself by going for a really good stallion?
You could pair the top mare with the top stallion in the industry and that wouldn’t guarantee a top foal. There are exceptions to every rule and by carefully matching your mare to a stallion that will potentially improve her weaknesses, you greatly improve the chance of producing a great foal. When a customer calls Cooper Quarter Horses to ask which stallion to choose, I ask them which traits their mare has that they would like to improve. All stallions have certain strengths or traits they pass on to their foals and it is important for the mare owner to know the strengths as well as the weaknesses of the potential mate for their horse. Some crosses work and some don’t.
Does it make a difference mentally to the mare that she isn’t actually covered?
Far be it for me to claim to know what goes on in the mind of a mare but I can tell you for the handlers it’s a whole lot less stressful and dangerous. Some matings can be lively, to say the least!
Apart from the advertised stud fee, what other costs are involved in AI?
Breeding fees can often confuse mare owners as the terminology can be confusing. The breeding fee is normally what the stallion owner will end up getting paid. The chute fee or booking fee is used as a down payment to make the contract legal and normally gets paid to the breeding farm or the manager of the semen. For frozen semen you would then have a storage prep fee; this is what the vet clinic that stores the semen charges to prepare the frozen semen shipper with liquid nitrogen, count the number of straws needed for shipment and then load them into the container for the breeder.
What are stallion owners and managers talking about when they say ‘we need paperwork?'
Stallion owners that have their semen stored overseas require the broker to provide them with detailed paperwork on each mare bred. Breed associations will require stallion owners to file appropriate paperwork so mare owners can register their foals the following year. Each shipment of semen that is sent out has Breed Society insemination certificates accompanying them. It is imperative that this paperwork be returned to the appropriate places. If the mare owner does not send this paperwork back to the broker, there is no way the stallion owner can fill out the breeder’s report at the end of the year. If this is not done the breed societies will have no record of foals when they are born.
What kind of assurances should I ask for from an agent or stallion owner?
Every contract from a stallion owner offers a different live foal guarantee so make sure you have a contract and read it over carefully. Normally the stallion owner will extend the breeding fee for two years in a row. It’s also important to have a good report with the stallion manager; usually, they have been in the business of breeding a long time and can give you help and tips for higher conception rates. If they offer you a verbal reassurance that is not on the contract, ask for it in writing. Most breeding farms will have no problem with this and if they do, walk away. Remember there is a high cost for the stallion owners to freeze semen so do your part by educating yourself and making sure you have knowledgeable veterinary help.
I have heard some bad stories about shipped semen not turning up in time or being of poor quality. How do I make sure this doesn’t happen to me?
Semen, whether fresh, cooled or frozen, can arrive in poor condition. We are dealing with Mother Nature and some things are beyond our control. However, you can and should request a report from the stallion manager on the stallion’s ‘progressive motility post thaw’ for frozen semen and ‘progressive motility after 48 hours’ for cooled semen. This report will tell you the percentage of semen moving forward after it has been warmed and will let you know what to expect when your shipment arrives.
Cooled semen is a little trickier when relying on shipping. The optimum insemination time is six hours before or after ovulation. Your odds of conception wane after that window. Cool semen will not live to match your mare’s time clock if she decides she needs more time.
With frozen semen, you can closely monitor your mare’s follicle development and only thaw the semen exactly when you need it. So when using frozen semen you might want to plan ahead and request your shipment arrive a little ahead of time, that way if your postman is late you will still be OK! If your veterinarian follows strict protocol included with every frozen semen shipment you should have no problem conceiving.
Clarice Cooper is the manager of Cooper Quarter Horses and Camelot Stallion and Embryo Transfer Station in Georgia, USA. Visit her website here.