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Frequently Asked Questions

Breeding

     

Q2)  What are the advantages and disadvantages of artificial insemination versus live cover?

There are many issues to consider when making the decision of live cover verses artificial insemination. For some breeders the choice is already made for them. For example, in order for the resulting foal to be registered with The Jockey Club, Thoroughbred breeders must have their mares bred by live cover. As inconvenient as this might seem to those unfamiliar with the Thoroughbred industry, this policy ensures the ability of more colts to end up at stud. If Thoroughbred mare owners weren't restricted by geography and location, they would no doubt be interested only in the sperm of the best of the best, thereby devaluing the stud services of all other stallions. In fact this is the case in the Standardbred industry. Because artificial insemination is the norm, the breed has improved much faster in comparison to the Thoroughbred. However, the Standardbred colt owner must make a profit at the racetrack because unless the colt is literally the best of the best there is no chance of making a profit on the colt as a stud (1).

Artificial Insemination

So, if there is no restriction on the decision let's look first at artificial insemination. The advantages are many starting with the fact that through artificial insemination the improvement of a particular trait (like our example of Standardbred trotting/pacing speed) in the breed of horse can be accomplished comparatively quickly. This is due in part to the ability of a stud to impregnate many more mares per season than is possible with live cover. With a wider results base each season, the desired traits are more likely to show and are more likely to be rebred, therefore producing a quicker time frame of breed improvement. What then adds to the process is that if these offspring and only these offspring showing the improvement are selected for stud (as in the case of Standardbred breeding) the chances of the improved trait proliferating quickly are even higher.

Other physical and management advantages of AI include the reduced risk of the spread of both venereal diseases and non-venereal disease such as equine influenza, strangles and equine infectious anemia (2). One interesting and helpful break-through is the ability to treat semen to reduce the natural bacteria content, therefore reducing the risk of uterine infection in prone mares (2). Along with the ability to impregnate mares with physical abnormalities (although, if genetic it is generally thought best not to breed these mares), the risk of injury that can occur with violent mares or stallions is also completely removed. And of course the last major advantage of AI is that you don't need to live down the street from the stallion or at least within practical hauling distance. AI makes it possible to breed your mare to practically any stud in the same hemisphere without so much as trying to load your mare into a trailer, not to mention avoiding the mare care fees that often stack up at stud farms, especially if your mare doesn't take immediately. The use of artificial insemination can be very advantageous to the stallion owner as well because he reduces the risk of injury to his stud and also increases his profits since one ejaculation can breed multiple mares.

So it sounds ideal, doesn't it? But along with every other scientific break-though artificial insemination does have its disadvantages.  As of now, results from frozen semen are very poor and therefore the only present option to prevent the immediate death of sperm is by cooling it. Although, it does extend the life of the sperm somewhat,  there is still a very limited amount of time in which the sperm must get from stud farm to the interior of your mare's uterus. The amount of money spent on same day or next day couriers by mare owners can sometimes seem very frustrating, especially if it is necessary to have semen shipped multiple times and can reach upwards of hundreds of dollars depending on the location of the stud farm. The other disadvantage that is associated with the use of AI is the increased risk of fraud and/or accidentally breeding the wrong stud to your mare. It is a lot easier to mistake one tube of semen for another than it is to mistake one stallion for another.  Although the stallion owner is able to sell more breedings they must be careful not to reduce the value of the semen (and the value of the Stallions's bloodline) by making it too easily available. In fact many Standardbred stallion owners have decided to limit the number of breedings available per season for this very reason. It is also important to have the semen observed and tested by your veterinarian prior to insemination, which adds to the issues of time constraint and cost. Overall, however, AI is considered a highly effective, convenient and safe method of horse breeding.

Live Cover

The advantages of live cover are also important to take into consideration. For those of you who are not exactly experts at understanding your mare's reproductive cycle or calculating when she will ovulate, it is a relief to have these decisions made by breeding experts at the stud farm. Another possible advantage is the fact that a stallion can cover a mare up to 10 times in a 24 hour time period, which can increase the chances of fertilization. Of course this will only be the case if the mare and stallion have access to each other for this amount of time, for example if they are turned out together in a pasture to breed without assistance. With controlled and assisted cover however, chances are that the mare will only be covered once, reserving further breedings for other mares. The financial advantages of live cover are illustrated well in the Thoroughbred industry. Because certain bloodlines are much harder to come by (meaning they are not available through mail-order) they retain their very high value both in the breeding shed and in the auction ring. Overall, live cover is considered a more natural and traditional way of breeding horses.

References & Suggested Reading:

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