Under the right circumstances, pasture breeding can be an effective technique for breeding operations to maximize their foal crops, while minimizing costs. Yet, with the demand for higher control over mating\’s, plus the high values of individual mares and stallions, pasture breeding is a technique that often results in an increased conception rate in a world already riddled with too many unwanted horses. Even so, pasture breeding is a convenient approach to producing foals and may prove beneficial big and small. Here are some of the considerations to keep in mind when considering pasture breeding for your operation.
In simple terms, pasture breeding involves placing a stallion in with a band of mares to encourage natural breeding behavior. Unlike artificial insemination or hand-breeding, there is little human interaction involved. Ideally, the horses are turned out in an area that is big enough to encourage grazing and without small,confined corners where individuals can become cornered. Fencing should be adequate, shelter should be provided and the animals must have appropriate access to feed and water. Additionally a stallion should not be able to contact other horses on the opposite side of the fence, as this can sometimes lead to territorial problems, unnecessary altercations or unwanted breeding\’s. If foals remain at the sides of mares involved in pasture breeding, the area should also be secure and designed properly for foals. If mares will be giving birth in the same pasture, this is typically not an issue, however the area should be designed and maintained for safe foaling as well.
Once a stallion is introduced into a harem of mares, the horses are seldom handled individually in the environment. Care must be taken prior to introducing the stallion with mares to ensure that all horses involved are infection-free. An infected mare can contaminate a stallion, who will in turn contaminate the other mares. Screening of reproductive infections should take place prior to introducing the animals together in a pasture.
Close observation and care of the animals can be difficult especially if the stallion becomes overprotective. Additionally, there is a potential for injury to both the mares and the stallion in a pasture situation. Nicks and scrapes are one thing but a stallion receiving a kick to the testicles from an unwilling mare is a very real possibility too. Plus, her dynamics and acceptance of the horses of one another are other factors that play key in pasture breeding.
It is possible for a stallion to reject a mare or certain mares. It is also possible for a stallion unaccustomed to \”life on the range\” due to a long history in the race or show arena, be unsure as his new position as a breeding animal. Some stallions take to a natural breeding program with no problem, while others may be confused by elements like creeks, uneven ground or even a mare in full heat. Inexperience stallions may require a paddock next to the mares (or a single mare) for a short while to help provide positive experiences and \”education\” – and ensure a stallion should be added to the group.
Safety is a primary concern with this breeding technique and one of the biggest limiting factors of pasture breeding. Some stallions may react violently when another animal or human approaches the herd, which makes the practice dangerous for a novice horse breeder. Additionally, the number of mares a pastured stallion can service is limited in comparison to breeding through other techniques such as artificial insemination – one of the biggest reasons it has become a less commonly used strategy in the equine industry.
The fact that very little hands-on involvement from humans can be done in a pasture environment can also be one of the biggest advantages of this process. Much less time consuming than teasing mares and preparing them for artificial insemination or hand-breeding, pasture breeding requires less from an owner and often results in a increased conception rate. (In a pasture situation, 20 to 40 mares per season is a reasonable number to expect a stallion to cover. Pasture breeding also typically garners high conception rates in healthy animals.)
Increased receptivity in shy mares and a relaxed attitude in mares that are opposed to restraints, stocks or other management-related stresses are additional benefits seen from pasture breeding. The practice may also be more economical for some breeders as there is a reduced need for stalls, breeding equipment and an experienced technician.
A Natural Situation Needs Forethought
Depending on the circumstances of a specific breeding farm, pasture breeding can be very beneficial. Careful consideration into all of the technique\’s aspects should be weighed with insight from veterinarians and experienced breeders before entering into a pasture breeding plan. Although natural breeding situations can be very successful, they can also result in severe economic loss when they are executed carelessly.