Article by Jennifer DesRoche with Signature Sporthorses
Editor's Note: The average prices listed below reflect the author's average costs of breeding expenses. Different areas of the country can vary significantly in rates and the below is intended as an example of one breeder's first hand experience.
So you've decided to breed your mare – what an exciting and fun undertaking! After all, breeding is a lot like gambling; and what’s more thrilling than that? No wonder those that get caught up in all the fun of equine reproduction tend to term it an addiction… but what are the actual costs you can expect when you’re embarking on a breeding adventure?
First of all, make sure you select the best mare that your budget will allow. Remember that your mare can easily produce a duplicate of herself, so if you’re not ok with just that, make another choice! If you aren't able to purchase a new mare, there are many mares available for breeding leases nowadays if you beat the bushes a little bit. Normally these leases allow the use of the mare for breeding in exchange for paying for her normal care and expenses, so having a good quality mare doesn't necessarily have to cost you a fortune up front.
Once you've obtained the mare you wish to breed, it’s a good idea to have a basic breeding exam done on her. It’s ideal to have a vet perform this exam when she is in heat. A basic exam, depending on your vet’s call fee, usually costs about $150, or slightly more with a culture. Doing a culture can be a good insurance policy against the time and expense of repeated failed breeding attempts due to an unknown minor infection that could be cleared easily if caught early. A biopsy can also be performed if you’re concerned about the mare’s age, if she’s had many foals, has a history of losing a pregnancy, or you just want to be thorough (add about $100). Let’s assume that your mare is clean, and there is no need for flushes or any further expenses in this area.
Now it’s time to get serious! If you haven’t picked a stallion already, now is the time to do so. Stud fees for good quality stallions breeding with fresh semen in the US and Canada normally range from about $1500-$2000, though there are those who are a bit less or more. You are welcome to contact the stallion owner of your choice and see if they offer any discount for performance mares, mares with winning offspring, etc, and even to ask for their thoughts and recommendations for the breeding you’re considering. “Stallion Auctions” put on by many of the breed registries are also a good way to locate breeding contracts at very reasonable prices prior to breeding season. Frozen semen from many stallions in Europe is also available through several brokers and also private parties, but it is considered more cost and labor intensive, as well as possibly riskier. Therefore, using fresh semen is normally a better option for a first timer. Once you've picked a stallion and paid your stud fee, you’re on your way!
Many mares show when they are in heat, so it’s not that difficult to tell when it’s time to have the vet come do an ultrasound to check her status. Most mares are cycling regularly by the beginning of April; of course some sooner, some later. As soon as you see her showing interest in a pasture-mate, or any other sign that she is coming in, call your vet to come check. If you can’t tell when she’s in, it’s ok to call and have the vet check her just to get a starting point in her cycle. There are also drugs available the vet can give to help bring her in, and also others to time your mare’s heat for a specific time period in case the stallion’s availability is limited. Each ultrasound will usually cost between $45-$65 depending on your practice’s charges, plus your call fee. So, perhaps plan for $100-$125 for each ultrasound check visit, depending on if sedation is used or not. Normally, you’ll need about 2-4 checks per cycle, depending on where the mare is in her cycle and how quickly she appears to be moving along.
When the time arrives and you’re ready to order semen, it normally costs about $100-$150 for the overnight shipment, plus whatever collection fee your stallion’s owner is charging. First collection is sometimes free (yay!), or can range anywhere from $100-$350! This is a good thing to be aware of when you’re booking to a stallion, as multiple collections and shipments can get quite pricey. The vet will come do the insemination, which should include an ultrasound and an evaluation of the semen quality. This will cost about $125-$175 again depending on fees in your area. If the mare has not yet ovulated, the vet typically will come back the next day to check for ovulation and use the second dose of semen which is customarily sent. If this is the case, double the insemination expense.
In 14-16 days the vet can come back and check for the coveted “black dot”, or a pregnancy! We will assume our fictional mare has conceived and we can do the happy dance. If no pregnancy is detected, she should be coming back into heat very soon and you can repeat the expenses from that point to try again. Plan for about $100-$125 for the pregnancy check cost, and then another subsequent check of the same expense at about 30 days to confirm the heartbeat. Some stallion owners will require the vet to fill out paperwork confirming the pregnancy and may even call for a check after 90 days, so when you plan your budget, just make sure to read the contract thoroughly.
After your mare is safely confirmed in foal, expenses are pretty level for feeding and her routine care expenses just as if she were not pregnant. Her nutritional needs will increase in the 3rd trimester, so plan for an increase in hay and grain during that time. After foaling, she will need a dramatic increase in feed to sustain her weight through milk production. Your vet and/or fee nutritionist can recommend amounts for your particular mare, but our mares normally receive double their 3rd trimester ration during early lactation.
At five, seven and nine months’ gestation, it is advisable to vaccinate your mare with a Rhinopneumonitis vaccine such as Pneumabort K to protect her from this virus that can cause abortion of the foal. These vaccines are typically around $20 per dose if you give it yourself, or you can have your vet come administer it if you’re not comfortable with doing it yourself (add the call fee and some markup). At the 10th month, or around 300 days, you’ll want to boost all of your mare’s vaccinations which usually falls in line with timing of spring shots anyway. Again, you can do this yourself (about $75) or have the vet come (probably closer to $150). At this time, it’s good to get your foaling kit together, which was referenced in a previous article.
So the long-awaited day of joy comes and your foal is born! Hooray! The vet should come examine the mare and foal and do an IgG test for antibody transfer within 24 hours of birth; preferably closer to 12 hours in case any treatment is needed. You should budget about $150-$200 for your foal’s wellness check.
Your foal doesn’t usually add a lot of additional expense while he or she is nursing from mom. You’ll need to have regular farrier care to add and then vaccinations when the time comes. After weaning, your foal will have full expenses just like the mare. Board and feed costs vary widely around the country! Just make sure to plan for those expenses when the time arrives.
Also, make sure to keep registration costs in mind, as you hopefully plan to register your foal. Most registries charge $150-$250, and if you have to attend an inspection, plan for the corresponding travel expenses as well (gas, lodging if needed, braiding, handling, Coggins/health paperwork).
Breeding and raising your own foal can be a very fun and rewarding experience. Knowing the costs involved helps to make the process a success! That being said, it is safe to plan on spending $3000-$5000 on average in added expenses in addition to routine board and care of your mare during the process, depending stud fee/collection/shipping costs and vet fees in your area.
A collaborative effort produced by the USSHBA Education Committee, USSHBA members, and our partners.