REPRODUCTION IN MINIS
Breeding for Conformation
The objective of our
breeding program is to contribute toward improving the Miniature Horse breed.
Therefore, careful consideration is given to best determine
If you are considering a
breeding program, breed only healthy, quality, mature miniature horse stock.
Following a regular worming and vaccination schedule is a necessity. Rely on
your vet's advice as different areas have different requirements. Good Quality
hay and feed are also necessary to produce the best miniature horses. Breeding
miniature horses requires a substantial investment as well as the breeder's
time, especially during foaling season.
Mares should be 3 years of age before producing although some larger 2 year olds have been bred without any problems. Breeders should always consider the temperament, height and conformation of the Mare as well as the Stallion. It may be the mare, not the stallion, in many cases that determines the height and conformation of the foal. A good miniature horse breeder maintains accurate records of the Get of Sires and Produce of Dams to determine which Stallions and Mares should be used in the breeding program. Not all mares and not all stallions are suitable for breeding.
The gestation period of the miniature mare is 330 days, plus or minus fifteen days. Some mares will foal in 10 months and some will carry a full 12 months. Abnormal gestation periods are often characteristic of that particular mare but we feel the weather may also be a factor. The premature foal is likely to be smaller and require special attention, while the 12 month foal may be born measuring 23 inches instead of the average 18 to 21. Often a 12 month foal will have more hair than usual. The 10-month foal and the 12-month foal may well be the same size by 6 months of age since heredity is the determining factor.
Foals are generally born from March through June because mares usually start to cycle during the spring and summer as the length of day increases. The heat cycle is dependent on the number of hours of light - natural or artificial. The reproductive process usually begins in February-March, but the heat cycles are irregular. The highest conception rates in horses is in April to July, consequently, most births will be from March to June the next year. Some breeders, for a variety of reasons, use artificial lighting and heated barns to alter the normal cycling period.
Once mares begin to cycle normally, there is a fertile time when the mare will accept the male for breeding. This period of estrus, "heat" or "season," occurs every 21 days on average. Most mares are in heat for about 5-7 days and most mares will come in season 5 to 7 days after foaling, in what horse people call the "foal heat." Unless the mare experienced difficulty in foaling, or for some other reason, there is no reason why she should not be rebred at this time. Ovulation occurs 24-48 hours before the end of estrus. In order for conception to occur, the male sperm must be present at this time. Therefore, the timing of breeding or insemination is very difficult to determine in the mare. Most importantly, you must know your mare. She may cycle every 24 days or perhaps the duration of her heat cycle may only be 3 days. You must be observant and recognize when your mare is in heat. A mare coming into standing heat will show signs of increased activity and excitability. She will urinate frequently, carry her tail raised and occasionally show a "vulva winking," opening and closing the outer lips of the vulva. Once the mare will stand to be bred (standing heat), she will often back up to the stallion, as opposed to when not in heat, she may have kicked or bitten at him. The reproductive tract becomes a brighter reddish color as the circulation is increased, mucous excretion becomes more active, and the cervix is open. It is essential to tease a mare daily with a stallion or sometimes even a gelding to detect the onset of estrus. This is one of the biggest problems for the mare owner who plans to breed to a stallion located elsewhere.
People wanting to start a Miniature Horse breeding program can either purchase a proven mature stallion or a young colt that could develop into a breeding stallion in a year or so. (Young colts are generally not as expensive as a mature stallion.) This is usually dictated by how much money one is prepared to spend and how soon they want to start their program.
Some owners arrange to breed their mare to a stallion owned by someone else, in which case they deliver the mare to the owner of the stallion, planning to leave her for 30 to 45 days, allowing time for two heat cycles. If you are booking your mare to be bred to someone else's stallion, the stallion owner will advise you as to what he requires with respect to health examinations, vaccinations, and cultures of the mare's reproductive tract. These are technical medical procedures to be performed by your veterinarian. Many breeders "pasture breed"; that is, they put a stallion with certain mares, leaving them together for the spring and early summer. The conception rate can be higher, but one seldom knows exactly when to expect the foals and some stallions may reject some mares, and vice versa for reasons known only to them.
Pregnancy can be ascertained as early as two weeks by a variety of tests available to your veterinarian, the most certain of which is ultrasound, but a confirmed pregnancy does not insure a foal every year. The mare may abort, undetected, or may reabsorb the fetus. Most breeders are guided by the heat cycle: if the mare is serviced by a stallion and does not recycle in about 24 days, they consider her to be in foal.
Most mares will begin to show signs of being "in foal" at about eight months, while some maiden mares may keep their figure a little longer. Udder development will be discernable about four weeks prior to foaling. During the last week, the foal will drop in the abdomen and this change in the mare's appearance will be noticeable. At about 48-72 hours before foaling the mare will begin dripping milk (known as colostrum) from her teats. This fluid will dry and harden on the teats - known as "waxing over." Usually in the last 24 hours before foaling the mare may show signs of distress. She may stay apart from the other horses, bite at her flanks, paw, lie down and get up frequently, whether in a stall or paddock. She should be put in a stall measuring at least 8' x 8' at night so that she can be observed. We prefer shavings (for absorption) under a good layer of straw for bedding in the foaling pen. If nothing else is available, newspapers might be an option to provide cleanliness and warmth. Generally, mares prefer no human company during foaling, so unless you are observing the horse on a monitor, it is likely you will miss the miracle of birth.
The actual birth process usually takes 5-20 minutes. If a mare has been in labor longer than 20 minutes there could very well be a problem so you should call your vet. In a normal birth a balloon-like membrane, or bubble will appear. This will break and release about a half-gallon of fluid. Within a few minutes, one forefoot should appear, then the other forefoot. This sequence means that one shoulder at a time is passing through the cervix, which is much easier on the mare. Then the head appears, tucked between the forelegs. Once the head and shoulders are clear, the rest is quickly passed. The birth track is circular and down, and any assistance given the mare should be within that track. Never try to pull a foal straight out or up, and don't try to use a calf-puller or other traction device on a mare. If the mare is having difficulty, call your veterinarian! A delay, even of several hours may risk losing the foal, and the mare as well. If all has gone well, the foal will be on the ground, still attached by its umbilical cord to the placenta. The head should be free of the sac and the foal should be breathing. If so, leave them alone, for the foal is still receiving blood from the placenta, and the mare is resting. If the nostrils are not clear of the sac, tear the sac open so the head is free. Making certain that the foal emerges from the "bag" may well be one of the most important reasons for being present at the birth. In five to ten minutes, the foal will begin trying to stand. Leave it alone. It will struggle and fall several times. This is normal. It will be on its feet in about fifteen minutes, often before the mare stands. During its struggle to stand, the umbilical cord will break, and the foal will be free, but the mare will not have expelled the placenta yet, and may not do so for another half hour or so. If the placenta is not expelled within four hours, call your vet. The foal's umbilical stump should be disinfected with an iodine solution or other prescribed disinfectant.
It is crucial that the
foal receive colostrum from its Dam, usually within the first 12 hours after
birth. The colostrum it receives during the next twenty-four hours contains the
anti-bodies necessary for the foal's immune system. If the foal has not nursed
or if it is obvious that the Mare has no milk or colostrum, call your vet
immediately. Steps can be taken to insure that the foal receives the proper
protection, but it must be done while the foal is still susceptible to accepting
colostrum. There are colostrum replacements on the market today that can be
administered to the foal by iv or orally. A plasma transfer that can supply the
newborn foal with antibodies can be performed if the foal is 12 hours or older
and has not received adequate colostrum from its Dam. It is important to be on
hand when the foal is born to make first-hand observations and to take the
necessary steps if required. A foal is usually up and nursing within the first 2
hours. Most births are without incidence, and are truly an awesome experience to
witness but one should be prepared to assist just in case, that
Many vets recommend that the foal be wormed at one month of age and every month thereafter for the first year. Alternate worming products in order to prevent a resistance to a particular wormer. A vaccination is also required for the young foal. Set up a proper schedule with your vet.
The Breeding Stallion
For many, their first miniature horse was a
young stallion, bought because it satisfied the urge to have a miniature horse
and was also affordable. The new owner might have intended to geld the colt but
never got around to it, or perhaps, decided that it was such a well behaved
horse, and such a good specimen, that it should be kept as a breeding stallion.
Everyone knows that you can't stop at one mini. A mare is often purchased
with thoughts of having babies.
Health is vital for a breeding stallion. He must be disease-free, and should be free of parasites. An effective worming program is essential, as is a daily exercise program for stallions kept in a stall. The pent-up energy, coupled with the frustration of being stalled, can lead to behavioral problems and refusal to perform in the breeding shed. The easiest form of exercise (for the handler) is free exercise - turn him loose in a spacious paddock, and watch him run, mane and tail flying. Watch him buck and cavort; he may continue for thirty minutes. Then work him for another thirty minutes on a lead line or lunge line, or put him on a hot walker.
A vigorous exercise program, in addition to physiological soundness and control, will increase the libido or sex-drive without causing control problems. It is the unexercised, undisciplined horse that causes problems, and not because his libido is high, but because he is out of his stall and intends to make the most of it. The exercised stallion works up an appetite and usually consumes his total daily ration. Whereas, good nutrition increases the number and motility of the sperm and exercise reduces boredom and the resultant stall vices such as cribbing, eating bedding, and masturbation. Additionally, exercise increases owner satisfaction because the horse looks better due to increased muscle tone, adequate sunlight, and that air of well-being which results.
Many Miniature Horse owners pasture breed, that is, they put one stallion in a pasture with the mares that are to be bred to him. Most stallions perform well, but the stallion must be in excellent condition when turned out because he will lose weight worrying about and herding his harem from one area to another, keeping them rounded up and together. That is but one reason supplemental feeding is recommended.
The horse owner never stops learning from experience and reading, but once "hooked" has a world of enjoyment and companionship ahead of them.
Breeders of quality AMHA
registered Miniature Horses