Frozen Semen - Sell by the Dose or as a Breeding?

October 25, 2011

For some breeds of horses, the most popular choice for marketing frozen semen is to sell by the dose. The mare owner pays in advance for each dose of semen and typically there is no live foal guarantee.This is often the case for imported frozen semen from Warmblood sport horse stallions standing in Europe. However, other breeds use their frozen semen as part of a breeding contract with a life foal guarantee. Much of the Standardbred and Quarter Horse semen we export to Europe and Australia is sold in this manner. At Select Breeders we feel the risk associated with breeding horses, by any means, should be shared by both the stallion and mare owner. Therefore our recommendation has always been to sell frozen semen with a guaranteed contract. We review the pros and cons of both options below and welcome your comments and discussion.

Frozen semen sold by the dose is an enticing opportunity for mare owners. The fee per dose is often one third to half the cost of a guaranteed breeding contract and the buyer may be permitted to breed multiple mares and consequently could produce >1 foal for each dose of frozen semen. With well managed mares and frozen semen of good fertility the buyer could potentially produce a quality foal at a fraction of the cost of a full breeding contract. On the other hand, with no guarantee the buyer may invest a significant amount of money on purchasing frozen semen and on breeding their mares, and still have no foal to show for it.

When there is a limited inventory of frozen semen, particularly if demand is high and/or there is no opportunity to replenish stocks due to death or injury of the stallion, then selling frozen semen by the dose is generally the best way to manage such limited resources.

Stallion owners who sell frozen semen by the dose cite the following advantages. They have no control over how the frozen semen is handled and utilized by the mare owner; therefore they do not want to be responsible for the cost of wasted semen due to poor management. When selling frozen semen by the dose, stallion owners get paid up front and relieve themselves of the additional commitment to follow through on a guaranteed contract. This is particularly convenient when frozen semen is sent to a broker in another country and then sold on to a mare owner. But there are potential disadvantages for the stallion owner too when selling frozen semen by the dose. Poor management of frozen semen doses could reduce fertility and reflect negatively on a stallion’s reputation.

Select Breeders Services generally recommends selling frozen semen as part of a contract, rather than by the dose for the following reasons:

  • Unlike bovine frozen semen which is sold by the dose as a commodity, the frozen semen from young stallions is not thoroughly fertility tested before being sold on the market. A dairy farmer who purchases a dose of frozen semen from a Holstein bull from a reputable AI or genetics company can be very confident of the fertility potential of that dose of semen when handled properly and inseminated into a fertile cow. The reason for this is that dairy sires have been selectively bred for milk production AND fertility, more specifically fertility in an AI program with frozen semen. The range in fertility per cycle for commercial AI bulls is very small and only a few percentage points separate high fertility bulls from average and low fertility bulls. Furthermore, bulls with low fertility with frozen semen are not commercially viable and are culled from commercial production so their frozen semen never reaches the market. Fertility testing of a young dairy sire’s frozen semen involves the insemination of thousands of cows to provide the estimate of fertility for that bull and the basis for which the decision is made to keep him or cull him from commercial production. Contrast this to the situation with horses. Even if one had the required number of mares available, stallions do not produce the number of AI doses per ejaculate required to practically or cost effectively fertility test their frozen semen. Stallions are not selected based on fertility, let alone how well their semen freezes. The best a mare owner can hope for is that the semen has been frozen by a reputable laboratory with proven protocols and that the frozen semen has undergone a thorough post-thaw evaluation and that any semen put on the commercial market meets strict quality standards based on available critical laboratory assays. 
  • Selling semen by the dose encourages mare owners to try and minimize the number of doses used (purchased) so that a pregnancy is achieved at the lowest cost. This approach will result in much higher veterinary costs for management of the insemination of that mare and may also result in lower fertility in an attempt to conserve doses of semen.
  • Frozen semen sold by the dose is often sold without any restrictions on the number of breeding certificates issued and may encourage a mare owner to split multiple straw doses for insemination of more than a single mare. This could lead to lower overall fertility from many stallions and contractual problems between mare and stallion owners.

There are some alternative options for selling frozen semen that fall between the extremes of selling by the dose or selling with a guaranteed contract. We will look into these further in a future Blog post, Contract Considerations for Stallion Owners. Here we will address common concerns and offer guidelines for stallion owners when creating their breeding contracts. In the meantime you may find the following links helpful:

Exporting Frozen Semen: Contract Considerations for Stallion Owners

FAQ: How Should I Sell Frozen Semen?

FAQ: How Many Doses Should I Ship per Cycle?

FAQ: How Should I Structure My Breeding Contract?