... a Breeder's perspective
(* the author is not a qualified veterinary surgeon)
Where to start ....
So, you have a great mare, a dream foal in mind, found the right stallion for her and they have frozen semen from him, but you haven't bred a foal before.
How does it all work? What is "normal" and what are the pitfalls? What happens next?
Below we hope to answer a bunch of the questions we all ask as new-to-frozen breeders, and add to them as we are asked others.
What form is the frozen semen in?
Most frozen semen these days is shipped in 0.5ml plastic straws, and they look quite tiny. Most stallions are 3 - 8 straws in a dose. Straws are colour and pattern coded for each stallion, so the vet can use the straw colour and pattern to quickly identify they have the right semen before inseminating the mare. With some of the larger semen collection stations, they print the name of the stallion on the side of the tiny straws.
The semen is spun down on collection and "concentrated" so there are many more sperm in each ml than normal, and the stallion's excess fluid used during live mating removed.
"Semen extender" is added, which helps the sperm stay alive during the freezing and thawing process.
In the early days of collecting and freezing semen (10 years ago), 5ml straws were often used, and if purchasing older semen it may come in a 5ml straw.
What sort of mares make the best candidates for frozen semen?
Generally, mares in good health, 3 years - 8 years, who ovulate well (your vet can scan and check this), are the best candidates for frozen semen.
Can frozen semen be made from all stallions?
Only about 30% of stallions freeze well. A further 40% freeze averagely and the other 30% are discarded after looking at how well or poorly the semen swims after it has been thawed (defrosted).
If the stallion freezes well, and has healthy strong swimming sperm after thawing, does that mean I will get a pregnancy?
It's definitely a very big plus!! Certainly if the semen is not healthy to begin with, and does not freeze well, it may be a big and expensive gamble to try and breed a foal.
There are equine web forums you can search to find out what the pregnancy success rates have been. This one is particularly good for the European warmbloods.
The only accurate estimate of frozen semen fertility is the number of pregnancies compared to the number of breedings. This can be tricky as it also depends on the mare's fertility and the skill of the veterinary surgeon / AI professional
What is the process and approximate cost to use frozen semen?
It is important to inseminate the mare as close to the time she ovulates (when the egg is released) as possible, usually within 4 hours, the closer to actual ovulation the better. Within an hour or two following ovulation is ideal.
Most vets will require the mare to stay with them overnight or for a couple of days to watch and wait for her ovulation. Your vet will scan the mare regularly to check for this, using rectal palpation and an ultrasound machine. This should be done in a safe vet crush.
Cost of insemination is around AUD$300 - $600 per cycle (ovulation), depending on what the vet has to do. Generally, insemination is around AUD$200 - $300, scans are around AUD$50 - $70 each to check when she is going to ovulate. Sometimes the vet will administer drugs to mature the follicle and help it release the egg.
What’s the "normal" success rate using frozen semen?
30% of cycles in general will result in a pregnancy from frozen semen.
This is compared to 50 - 60% using chilled semen and 70 % live cover.
What’s the difference between using chilled or frozen semen?
Having used both chilled and frozen ourselves, we have found frozen a lot easier and more reliable as you can have it sitting at your vet waiting until your mare is ready, rather than having to time when the mare will ovulate. Notoriously, she will either “go early” and ovulate before the chilled semen gets to you, or hang on to a 5.0 - 5.5cm follicle for 5 days and you have already had the chilled semen collected, shipped, and as it’s only viable for around 36 hours, then (worst case scenario) have to tip it down the sink and do it all over again.
Must admit we had thought chilled would definitely be better, but having now used both with our own horses, we agree with our vets and are complete converts, provided the stallion’s frozen semen defrosts well with a good, straight line motility count.
Does frozen semen come with a live foal guarantee?
Generally there is no live foal guarantee, as there are so many variables with mare fertility and skill of the vet / AI technician.
When compared with chilled semen, a "until the foal stands and sucks" or "until the foal is 24 hours old" LFG will only be of value if
If I purchase 3 doses, and the mare gets pregnant with the first or second dose, can I use the last dose on another mare?
It depends on the contract between the stallion owner and the distributor, so it is important to read the contract.
Can the cream dilute and double cream dilute stallions listed be used with a double dilute mare (cremello or perlino)?
Some of the cream dilute stallions listed are not approved for use with a double dilute.
This is not because the stallion owners are “frightened of the competition” if this mating produces a double dilute (cremello or perlino) colt.
It is because there is a 50% chance this mating will produce a double dilute colt, and it is rare to produce a colt of any colour that is good enough to remain a stallion.
The saleability and outlook for double dilute geldings as ridden horses is not great.
Therefore, most double dilute stallion owners would rather not take the high risk from this mating (50%) of producing a double dilute colt that would not be of enough quality to remain entire, when there is not a significant market for as a ridden double dilute gelding.
Are the doses saleable / transferable to someone else?
The contract for purchase and use of the semen is with you, and based on the mare (s) that have been approved for use.
If you wish to on-sell a dose or transfer a dose to someone else, we would need to agree the sale / transfer and mare to be used, and the “transferee” would also need to sign the same terms and conditions and one of our contracts.
Where is the semen stored?
The Australian semen is stored at Gene Movers in VIC. Gene Movers are good and helpful with transport and can organise it all worry-free on your behalf. You just call them and let them know where you’d like it sent)
Gene Movers contact number is (03) 5367 1395
Gene Movers can also insure your frozen semen during transport if you wish to do that.
The New Zealand semen is stored at Equibreed in Te Awamutu on the North Island in NZ. The team at Equibreed are also good and helpful with transport and can organise it all worry-free on your behalf. You just call them and let them know where you’d like it sent)
Equibreed's contact number is (07) 870 1845
What is the cost to transport semen to my vet?
It is actually cheaper to ship frozen semen than chilled, as there is no $300 ish collection fee for the stallion.
Frozen semen has to be shipped in liquid nitrogen, to keep it frozen, and is usually shipped straight from the storage centre to your vet, who will transfer it out of the liquid nitrogen canister into their holding tank. Note: please have a conversation with your vet first and check they have a liquid nitrogen holding tank at their premises, before arranging shipping.
Transport will be around $50 - $400 in a liquid nitrogen canister, depending where you live.
The semen storers can organise this on your behalf, either to your vet, or closest main airport for you to collect.
As a costing example, a lady in WA had semen transported last year from VIC. It was $150 in vet cost to pack the semen including container hire and supply of the liquid nitrogen, $100 to get it couriered to Melbourne airport, $120 flight transport from Melbourne to Perth via Qantas Freight and $15 to post the empty container back. Added together = $385.
What would the next steps be?
Ask the semen owner / distributor to send through a contract if you’d like, for your review. There are generally bank account details on there for payment of the semen.
For our stallions, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
How do I confirm purchase?
To confirm purchase, the full amount would be payable, contract signed & returned and then we will contact the semen storers with your details and release the doses to you.
You can move them to your vet now, or they can sit there for a small monthly storage cost (depending on the number of doses you purchase), until you need them.