Is your broodmare going to be ready for breeding this year? Is she old enough – or maybe too old? Whether you are a seasoned horse breeder, or a new mare owner with a desire to increase your herd, there are some steps you must take to ensure your mare is healthy and ready to conceive. Following a breeding management regiment as prescribed by your veterinarian will improve your mare’s chances of delivering a healthy foal.
The first step is to have your mare evaluated by your veterinarian. At a minimum, you need your mare vaccinated, and on an appropriate nutrition and parasite control program. A breeding soundness evaluation should be performed, which will save you money if it looks like your mare is unlikely to conceive or be able to carry to full term. This evaluation should include a visual examination of the vulva and vagina, and palpation of the cervix, uterus and ovaries. Her true reproductive potential can be revealed from uterine biopsy, culturing the uterus for infectious microorganisms, ultrasonic examinations, and having a thorough reproductive history.
Mares can be bred successfully into their twenties. Even a virgin mare can be bred later in life if she is healthy. Fillies mature around 18 months old. Even though they can conceive as young as two-years old, it is not recommended as they are still growing and their growth may be hindered. Mares are not sexually mature until four years of age.
Step Two is to decide when you want that foal to arrive. Mares are seasonal breeders, ovulating in the spring in response to increased day length. A Sacramento Vet will advise their clients that the natural time to breed mares is from May through August. Pregnancy lasts for about 335 to 342 days. However, the gestation time period for a healthy foal can vary by as much as 100 days. Since some breeds recognize January 1 as the official birth date, some breeders want to move up the process to give their foals a competitive edge for showing or racing.
If you would like to breed earlier in the year, there are several ways to stimulate your mare’s ovulatory season. Two months prior to breeding, begin a supplemental light program. Your Sacramento vet can prescribe an artificially increased day-length, providing a total of 16 hours of light each day. Of course, this process must be consistent, with no dark periods interrupting the transition from daylight to supplemental light. This schedule should continue until your mare is pregnant.
Your vet may also recommend a progesterone product be used to get your mare from the transitional period to regular estrous cycling. This would typically be a daily oral regumate (Altrenogest) or an injection of regumate that would last 12 days.
A broodmare should receive just as much care as your performance horses. Keeping her feet trimmed, and shod if there is a need; dental care, and nutrition based on her current weight and general health. Your Sacramento vet can recommend a diet that contains a balance of vitamins and minerals and green leafy hay will aid in achieving pregnancy. They seem to be more fertile if they are in a weight-gaining phase, but not obese. This simulates the “natural” winter to spring seasonal changes.
Your equine reproductive veterinarian will know when the time is right. Mares have a variable estrous cycle pattern even during the ovulatory season. This period between one ovulation and the next, is about 21 days long. Estrous, the time of sexual receptivity, occupies about 5-6 days of the cycle. The duration of estrous is extremely variable and can last anywhere from two or three days to two or three weeks. Your equine reproductive veterinarian will be able to determine the optimum time to breed your mare using several natural and artificial techniques.
So, ensure your mare’s reproductive tract is healthy before breeding with a breeding soundness evaluation. Decide if it is important that the foal arrives earlier in calendar year. Know where your mare is in her cycle. Provide comprehensive care for your mare, including foot and dental care, quality feed and the right combination of supplements. And, be sure that you know when she is ready to be bred. You can actually shorten the time she spends away, and reduce the costs of breeding if you follow these steps.