Monday, July 13, 2009

Commentary on Unwanted Horse Coalition Survey

As promised, albiet a bit late, here is my take on the Unwanted Horse Coalition survey:

While I felt it was a good overall snapshot of the current market, I felt it did not properly address one of the primary causes of horse overpopulation: substandard breeding practices.

Taking an analytical approach, let's analyze what it takes to get a foal on the ground.

First, you have to have the mare. While some believe the only prerequisite to being able to produce a foal is the ownership of a uterus, I truly believe we need to scrutinize our mares just as much, if not MORE than the stallions we breed her to. The general theory is that the mare contributes to 60% of the foal, and seeing how the foal is 50% of the genetic make-up of the foal, and the only one of the parents to nuture the foal, then I think 60% is a reasonable assessment of the mare's overall impact on her offspring. More on this later.

Then you have the stallion. Some people keep their own stallions while others ship semen from selected stallions. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Keeping your own stallion gives you access to semen at any time, so it cuts down on shipping and ultrasound costs to catch your mare right at ovulation, but you do have the extra costs associated with keeping another horse, and the additional costs in keeping a stallion specifically (fencing, care, promotion, handling, etc). You also need to specifically chose your mares based on their ability to compliment your stallion, rather than chosing mares that you like in general (again, more on this later). If you ship semen, of course you have the cost of the semen, vet fees from ultrasound and insemination, shipping costs (sometimes multiple), etc.

So the total cost to get a foal on the ground, from conception to birth, assuming one already has the mare, can be estimated in this way (detailing the specifics here for verification purposes):

Difference in cost of feeding an open mare versus a pregnant mare:

Being conservative, let's say it costs a person $100 per month to feed an open mare (about half the cost of what it takes to feed my show horses). According to this article, the mare's nutritional requirements increase by 70%. Again, being very conservative, let's say her actual feed intake increases by half that, so 35%, which would be an increase in cost of $35 per month in feeding a pregnant mare as opposed to an open one.

Typical gestation is 340 days, approximately 11.33 months. $35 per month multiplied by 11 months (rounding down here, again, to be conservative) it costs $385 in extra feed alone for the mare to nourish herself and her unborn foal. Also be sure to add the 3 rhino shots she will need plus the 5-way vaccination 30 days before her foal is born and you'll add $60 to that total. She'll need an minimum, one ultrasound to confirm in foal, which, if you take her to the vet yourself, will run around $25 (again, being very conservative). Total on mare side = $470.00

Then you have stallion costs.

If you have your own stallion, then, you'll have his $100 of conservatively estimated feeding costs for 11 months. Add in farrier care ($30 for every 6 weeks of the 11 month gestation period equals $219.99), yearly vaccinations ($24), and rotational worming ($20) for a total of $1363.99 and I'm not even counting promotional costs (which can be astronomical), fencing initial costs and continuous repairs, breeding supplies, training, handling, breed association fees for enrollment and breeding reports, etc. Say you have 5 mares, so to be generous, dole out the cost per mare would total $272.80 per foal.

If you ship semen, you won't have those care costs, but the minimum stud fee you can expect to pay for a worthy stallion would be $400, plus $150 for shipping, plus at least 3 ultrasounds to pinpoint ovulation and then the additional vet fees for insemination. Total costs here can run over $600 and that's IF your mare takes on the first try.

My point here is to put a foal on the ground, at MINIMUM costs $750 and that's IF the mare takes first try and that's IF everything goes absolutely right, which, if you've breed more than, say 3 foals, you know just isn't the case.

What I don't understand, is what is the point of producing foals that will sell in the open market for $750 or less? It doesn't make good business sense, and it certainly isn't good for those foals.

Another issue that seems completely irrational to me is breeding the same cross time and time again and expecting a different result. I see a foal for sale for $50 or best offer, then its dam for sale, bred back the same way! Why? What is the point? Why would you rebreed a mare if you can't get more than $50 for a foal with the same genetics?

To the point I promised earlier, there are certain things I've learned from some very successful breeders. I didn't make up this information--it was passed onto me, and hopefully I can do some good by presenting this advice here.

1. Don't reinvent the wheel. When breeding horses, go with proven crosses. The best way to research proven crosses is to type in your horse's sire or grandsire and then find horses that are successful doing what you'd like to breed for. Then find out their pedigree and see where the successful cross was. For example, the Sheriffs had a very succcessful breeding program built upon one proven cross: Red Sonny Dee and Mr Norfleet. Again and again you'll see this cross successful, producing both halter and performers.

2. Every year at the end of foaling season, take a look at all your foals. Rate them from best to worst. Then sell the mare that produced your worst foal. Again, why try the cross again if it doesn't work?

3. Don't breed anything you HAVE to sell. By wholesaleing the foals you breed, you only lower your overall market base price. If you haven't sold your foals, DON'T BREED AGAIN! Why pour more foals into an already flooded market? If your foals don't sell, then there's no demand. You're not going to create demand by producing more! (Remember supply/demand in high school economics?) If you can't sell your foals, then keep and train them until they do become valuable. If you can't keep them and train them because you have another huge foal crop coming and "need the room," then STOP!

4. It costs the same to feed a poor quality horse as it does to feed a good one. Now, this old adage can also apply to horses that do nothing for your program. Don't feed and certainly don't BREED horses that don't offer something spectacular to your program (see point #2). Right now it is a buyer's market. If you're going to breed horses, then go out and get those PROVEN producers (and by the way, a "proven" producer is a horse that's produced a foal that's gone on to do something other than just breathe) or horses with stellar, proven pedigrees. Anyone can afford a GREAT horse right now, so there's absolutely no excuse to breed Generic McPlainwrap to Miss Hazauterus and expecting that foal to be something special. Breeding is a gamble no matter what, so why not stack the odds in your favor?

5. If you have a mare that's just not a good producer, but she is breeding sound, and you adore, love and care for that mare YOU DON'T HAVE TO BREED HER! Really, it's ok. Just because something has a uterus and ovaries does not mean it must be bred! Honest to God, that mare will not die from NOT having a foal! I of all people understand attachment and have been guilty of keeping horses around that drag down my bottom line solely based on emotion. However, please, take your beloved mare and teach her something to make more use out of her other than a foal factory. Hopefully the mare can be ridden. If not, she can be a companion for your show horses on a break, or a lawnmower, or a pasture ornament, or a weaning buddy. Just don't create more unwanted foals based solely on emotion. Only breed her if she can make a genuine contribution to the gene pool.

6. Even if you plan on keeping the foal, forever and ever and ever, PLEASE create only marketable foals. Let's face it, shit happens. We can't always plan for the future. Horses live 20+ years. If you really think you know what is going to happen to you in the next 20 years then I've got a bridge to sell you. You may adore your fugly, unregistered "tri-colored quarab half-draft sport horse" but I have to tell you, the market is not so kind to them.

7. Finally, please register your foals. Even if it's not important to you, it's a simple fact that registered horses are more marketable. Yes, you can't "ride papers," but papers tell a person a lot about a horse. Some people will not even consider owning a horse without papers, so why cut down on a horse's marketablity just because you don't want to do a little paperwork?

I'll step off my soap box for now but I truly believe that these items are all important when it comes to cutting down on the number of unwanted horses out there.

Alright, chickadees, as Linda Richmond would say, "Talk amongst yourselves." I've given you a topic, so "Discuss."


Horseinc said...

Jessie ,
I love that you thought this out and put it all together. It is great! I hope it makes people think. Can I get your permission to copy this? I'd love to put it on my website, with you getting credit. I rescue horses and it is well said.

Horseinc said...

Jessie ,
I love that you thought this out and put it all together. It is great! I hope it makes people think. Can I get your permission to copy this? I'd love to put it on my website, with you getting credit. I rescue horses and it is well said.

Jessie said...

Hi Cheryl,
Thanks so much for asking--feel free to use it. I took a look at your website and you all do amazing work--congrats on your successes and thank you so much for rescuing these horses!