Ranching Blog: Visiting Babies

Visiting the mares and foals are a highlight of the year.

Ranch Horse Journal

Visiting the mares and foals are a highlight of the year.

Going to see the mares in the late spring and early summer when they’re foaling is definitely one of the highlights of ranch life around here. Oh, sure, the calves are cute, and calving is something ranchers take very seriously, but there’s something extra special about a visit to see the mares when the babies start dropping.

For folks who breed horses, it’s like Christmas Morning, only better. The 11 month gestation period seems like it takes forever. When that first foal arrives, periodic mare checks begin, and there are squeals of delight – at least from me.

Our program was started by the late Wayne Ducheneaux, and Zach Ducheneaux has often said “our job now is not to screw it up.” Thanks to the breeding program of Bob Miller in Beggs, Oklahoma, we’ve been able to successfully add the blood of Poco Bueno and Peppy San Badger to the foundation of Sniper Buck, Dandy Fly, Dandy Bar Jet, and Breezing Smooth. A true testament to the effort in maintaining that legacy is that all three of our senior studs, (WDX Banjobreeze Baby, aka “Banjo,” WDX Nukem, aka “Nuke,” and Poco Tivio Pep, aka “Chachi”) often served triple duty: breeding, ranch-work and caretaker to some of our greenest riders while doing ranch-work together. Zach is fond of saying to visitors, “if you ever get anywhere else where the studs are the babysitters for green riders, please let me know. That’s a place we’re interested in visiting with.”

Here on the ranch, our mares are range horses. They’re turned out on several hundred acres, and we don’t check them every day. We have a general idea when they should start foaling, based on our breeding  calendar, so about two weeks prior, we will go out for a visit to see which mares look close. Like our cowherd, it works better for us to align with green grass and warmer weather. We’re experimenting with wintering the foals and calves out with their mothers as well and liking the results.

Through the harshest of South Dakota winters, the mare herd takes care of itself grazing in winter pastures. Our breeding strategy is simple: We continue Wayne’s legacy to breed horses that are born gentle. The home-raised mares all walk up to you in the pasture; any outcross mares will generally go with one of our three aforementioned studs. They’re sure to put a lot of “people are awesome” personality into the foal.

We believe that a gentle horse that aims to please creates a good combination. It allows us to let green riders and aspiring horsemen alike help when it comes time to halter-break or start these colts under saddle. It’s especially fun when you have an outcross mare, by of one of our gentle studs, bred to another one of the “gentle makers.” You know that foal is a future kid-horse superstar in the making.

Even more astounding than the gentle colts, is watching the current patriarch of the family, Zach, visit the mares. Visitors to the ranch are always in awe, as he ambles quietly up to each and every foal, utilizing their bred-in good nature, along with their curiosity to get them good about being rubbed.

This week we will sort our mares into their respective bunches and turn the studs out. And next year, in the middle of June, when the grass is at its best, we can be delighted with those wobbly long-legs, incessant curiosity, and the next generation of horses. It’ll be like Christmas all over again.

Jenn Zeller is an aspiring horseman, photographer,freelance writer, barrel racer and collector of horses and chickens.  She resides in South Dakota on The DX Ranch, a third generation cattle ranch where the family raises Angus and Brangus cows as well as Quarter Horses. Contact her at jennifer@thesouthdakotacowgirl.com