All too often we hear tragic stories about the sudden death of a stallion whether it be due to an illness or an accident no one anticipated. He may have been a mature stallion who was already proving himself as a sire or a young stallion but now the world will never know his genetic capabilities. These conversations usually end with the stallion owner saying, “I wish I had frozen semen from him.” Or a mare owner saying, “I wish they had frozen semen on him because he would have been a wonderful cross with my mare.” It doesn’t have to be this way.
The typical reasons semen is frozen are for the international market, if the stallion dies, he is injured, he contracts an illness, if he is competing during breeding season or because of the more efficient use of an ejaculate. However, these aren’t the only reasons to freeze equine semen. In this article we will explore a few additional motives:
- Better Quality Control
- Young Stallion Beginning His Career
- Prior to Gelding a Stallion
- More Convenient Than Other Options
- More Cost Effective for Both Stallion and Mare Owners
- Mare Owners Request Frozen Semen
- Preserve a Genetic Line or Breed
Better Quality Control
When collecting semen for cooled shipment many factors can affect the quality of the semen. It’s possible such negative effects may not be realized until after the semen has been shipped and received by the mare owner. Such problems with quality can occur if the stallion has suffered a fever, there was an issue with the collection of the semen, bad extenders were used or the semen was mishandled. The result is poor quality semen, unhappy mare owners, frustrated veterinarians and lower pregnancy rates. Frozen semen allows for pre-screening of stallions for infectious diseases and the ability to thaw the semen for a post-thaw analysis of motility, concentration, and bacterial growth. Thus, mare owners and veterinarians can breed mares with confidence they are being provided with the best quality semen possible. To learn more about the quality control measures in place at SBS laboratories click here.
Young Stallion Beginning His Career
A young stallion just beginning his show career has yet to prove himself as an athlete let alone his ability to produce capable offspring. Rather than begin his athletic campaign and collect semen for cooled shipments at the same time a stallion owner may choose to train him to be collected and freeze semen during a time when he is not scheduled to be shown. This allows the stallion owner, trainer and the stallion himself to concentrate on one goal at a time. This also gives the stallion owner an opportunity to select a few choice mares during his first breeding season to see what kind of sire he may become.
Freeze Semen Prior to Gelding
Sometimes it is beneficial to geld a stallion before his breeding career has a chance to start or even once he has proven himself as a sire. Some trainers prefer to ride geldings because they feel that they may be able to focus better on training/showing than stallions. Often, good young prospects that are gelded at an early age become successful performance horses and are now able to contribute to the gene pool. Also, several breed registries restrict young competitors from presenting stallions in the show ring. Therefore, even if a stallion is well mannered and easily handled by younger people they are unable to compete. If his semen is frozen prior to gelding he can continue his show career as well as continue to sire offspring.
Frozen semen is a more convenient method of shipping semen. Once it is frozen the semen can remain in storage for an indefinite period of time as long as the storage containers are properly maintained. There is no need to scramble to warm up extenders, find a mare in heat to tease the stallion, collect semen, process it, find the proper shipping method and then hope the weather holds up so there are no delays in delivery. Frozen semen can be shipped well ahead of when it’s needed to avoid any unforeseen delays.
Once the semen has arrived at its final destination it is ready and waiting for when the mare needs to be bred. If provided with at least 2 doses of frozen semen per cycle a timed insemination protocol can be used to breed her. This is more convenient for the veterinarian as it is not necessary to check the mare every 6 hours to determine ovulation and more cost effective for the mare owner because they save on palpation and ultrasound fees.
More Cost Effective for Both Stallion and Mare Owners
When shipping cooled semen or breeding mares on the farm it is necessary to either have your own collection facility/staff or find a facility where he can stand. The issue arises in what to do with the facility and staff when it’s not breeding season. Will you have a use for the collection shed you spent money to build and enough work for the staff to keep busy or even the income in the off season for payroll? This is where a facility which specializes in processing, storing and shipping frozen semen may be beneficial. The stallion can spend a period of time at the frozen semen facility having semen collected and frozen. Then he can go wherever the stallion owner chooses whether it be home or back into training .
The typical cost per ejaculate to have semen collected and processed for a cooled semen shipment is approximately $395.00. If only two doses of cooled semen are required from the collection this is a cost of $197.00 per dose of semen. Alternatively, the cost to freeze the same ejaculate would be approximately $550.00. If seven doses of frozen semen are processed from the ejaculate the cost per dose is $78.57.
For mare owners the option of having several doses of one stallion or several doses from multiple stallions shipped in one container is appealing. If the semen is shipped in one container at the beginning of breeding season then they save on the cost of multiple cooled semen shipments or even the cost of sending the mare to the stallion to be bred with fresh semen.
Mare Owners Request Frozen Semen
More and more mare owners are beginning to experience the conveniences offered by frozen semen. The semen can be shipped at the beginning of breeding season so delays in weather or the ability to collect a stallion for a shipment are not an issue. They can also receive enough semen for the entire breeding season and/or for multiple mares in one single shipment rather than waiting on multiple cooled semen shipments which can save not only time but money as well. For these reasons many mare owners are asking stallion owners to provide frozen semen.
Preserve a Genetic Line or Breed
Some owners have genetic lines in their breed which they wish could be dipped into today. Such as the great Quarter Horse stallions Peppy San Badger (AQHA) or Dash For Cash (AQHA) which aren’t available today. True, they have progeny of breeding age but it’s not the same as actually having semen available from one of these great sires to re-introduce into the genetic population today. There are also many great stallions in this day and age which may be of interest to mare owners in years and decades to come. For instance, the famous Trakehner stallion, Abdullah, had semen frozen more than 25 years ago. With frozen semen in storage, mare owners are still choosing to breed their mares to him all these years later as seen with his colt born in 2014 (photo above right).
The Exmoor pony has been placed on the United Kingdom’s Rare Breeds Survival Trust and given “threatened” status by The Livestock Conservancy in the United States. Fewer than 5000 Exmoor ponies remain in the entire world and the United States only has approximately 100 living within its borders. By freezing semen from these ponies the genetics of the breed can be preserved and with time it is possible the number of Exmoor ponies throughout the world may increase.
Dr. Kerstin Darenius of Caballa, our SBS affiliate lab in Sweden, has also been involved in the preservation of Swedish horse breeds. In 2009, she began a project in cooperation with the Swedish Board of Agriculture to collect and freeze semen from several native Swedish horse breeds. They include two draft horse breeds, the North Swedish Horse and the Swedish Ardenner, as well as the Gotland pony breed (photo left).
Whether you are thinking of freezing semen from your stallion because you want your son/daughter to show him, you wish to preserve his genetic line or for any of the other reasons listed above it is best to have it done sooner than later.