Where a Horse Can Be a Horse: Part 1

In breeding, sometimes Mother Nature knows best.

In today’s world of e-mail, instant messaging and online banking, sometimes you might wonder if the old ways aren’t still the best ways. In the horse industry, technology comes to us by way of artificial insemination, DNA testing, and cooled and frozen semen, while the old ways of pasture breeding seem to have been left behind. Or maybe not.

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In southwest Iowa, the Lapke family continues a successful breeding program of performance American Quarter Horses, including its cornerstone stallion, Lena Gallo, 2008 FEI world reining championship gold medalist; and Fuel N Shine, 2008 AQHA world champion junior working cow horse. The family’s stallions and mares have proven AQHA and National Reining Horse, National Reined Cow Horse and National Cutting Horse association performance blood. And the Lapkes’ program works with pasture breeding. Before a recent production and partial dispersal sale, the Lapkes owned and bred six stallions and 90 mares. John, along with his brother, Tim, and father, Ed, made the decision to scale back their horse operation so they could spend more time with their children. The dispersal also allowed them to evaluate and update their stock, something every breeding program must do. Kari Lapke says that reduced expense and convenience are the two key factors that make pasture breeding work for them.

The pasture breeding program allows them to breed on a larger scale without the expense and equipment of a typical artificial breeding and semen shipping program. When needed, the family can also hand-breed a stallion. Also, the lack of a full-service breeding facility near the Lapkes and the desire to have their horses at home, make pasture breeding the viable option for them. “We tried standing Lena Gallo somewhere else, but then we had to ship semen home to breed our own mares. It just didn’t work for us,” Kari says. Lapkes don’t stand their stallions to outside mares. Lena Gallo has officially retired from competition as the family focuses on his career as a sire. A 2-year-old son of the stallion is in reining training now, preparing for the 2010 NRHA Futurity. Of their breeding program, Kari says, “We love seeing the potential of taking a chance every now and then and seeing what happens.”

The Lapkes’ stallions have provided them with great conception rates each year, adding to the success of their program. “We normally don’t pre-check everything each year,” Kari says, “but we’ll do the ‘Shiner’ and ‘Rooster’ daughters, just because.” The Lapke stallions have been dependable in getting mares bred early and getting them in foal. “You will always have mares that will just leave the stallion. With the dispersal sale, all the mares were checked in foal with the exception of just seven – three mares are known to leave the stallion; three were young and one was older.” If mares don’t favor a stallion, they can walk away in the pasture environment. Of the Lapkes’ 90 mares, 83 (92 percent) were checked in foal. According to Amy Gumz of Gumz Farms, a leading breeding farm standing several top stallions and shipping semen, a live foal rate of 70 percent is a success for any breeding program. Statistically, the average of 70 percent is common for using cooled and or frozen semen. This was the first of a three-part series. Stay tuned next week for Part 2.

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