Horse Breeding After He's Gone

Manage the use of frozen semen from deceased stallions.

The loss of a stallion is not only an emotional and economic loss for his owners, but it can also have an incredible impact on the industry. Fortunately, with the development of better stallion semen freezing techniques, improved mare breeding management and proper strategy, that stallion can continue to produce for years after he is gone. When faced with determining the best course to market and utilize the frozen semen, there are a few factors that need to be considered, the most important being how much frozen semen is available and its fertility. As many veterinarians will testify, not all frozen semen is fertile, regardless of the motility. When possible, test-breeding studies should be attempted, preferably when the stallion is alive and at the time the semen is frozen. With proper mare management, some stallions’ frozen semen can be successfully used in half doses or less, while others may need full doses or more to produce a pregnancy.

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Another factor is to determine how many mares should be booked to a stallion each year. This is where strategy can be helpful. Some stallion owners will open the book so that the semen will be used within only a few years and then start concentrating on the stallion’s progeny. Other owners will limit the bookings and be more selective with the mares to try to extend the semen for a longer period of time. Whichever booking strategy is selected, it is also important to consider who will be handling the semen and mare breeding management. Some owners keep more control on the process by working closely with the veterinarians in a single reproductive center. This allows for the semen to stay at one establishment with consistent handling. One of the cons to this is that all mares must travel to one location for the breeding process and then return home later pregnant or with a pregnant recipient, and that travel can be stressful for some mares. In addition, boarding costs for mare owners can be high. This may limit the mares bred to that stallion. Another approach is to ship the frozen semen to other reproductive facilities. This allows more mares to be bred to the stallion but may result in increased use or loss of semen. Another option for the use of frozen semen from deceased stallions that may extend the longevity and increased production is the use of intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), which is a form of in vitro fertilization. There are only a handful of centers in the world that offer this service, and it can be cost-prohibitive in some instances, but only a small number of sperm cells are required for the process, and it may result in the production of several more embryos. Nobody ever wants to consider preparing for a stallion’s demise. But with proper planning before and after the event and appropriate management of frozen semen, some of our stallions can have a form of reproductive immortality for many years.

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Dr. Chelsea Makloski-Cohorn is a board-certified theriogenologist with Pinnacle Equine in Whitesboro, Texas. She focuses on all aspects of equine reproduction, with an emphasis on problem mare, frozen-semen breeding management and embryo transfers. After hours, she and her husband enjoy roping and barrel racing on their American Quarter Horses.