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How to breed the best foals

Irish Independent - Dublin,Ireland

HORSE SENSE: Foals with show-ring performance will command a high price. Colour is also influential, as is the animal's month of birth

HORSE SENSE: Foals with show-ring performance will command a high price. Colour is also influential, as is the animal's month of birth

By Norman Storey

Tuesday January 06 2009

With the downturn in the economy and the drop in prices, it is more important then ever to 'breed for the market'. The demand for good horses is almost as strong as ever, but the foal or young horse that does not meet the market requirements has no chance of making a financial return for the breeder.

The question is when selling foals: What influence, if any, does the dam of the foal have on the sale price?

In 'Profile of the Irish Sport Horse Industry 2007', produced by the Irish Horse Board, the economic benefits of selective breeding were examined.

Details of more than 3,000 foals were recorded from sales in Goresbridge between 1999 and 2004. Sale prices were analysed on the basis of the genetic merit of the parents.

Even though most breeding mares may never have competed in jumping competitions, they can be given a genetic merit classification based on the performance of their offspring, and other close relatives.

On the other hand, most of the top breeding stallions have a successful performance record.

The foals were classified into groups according to the genetic merit for the showjumping ability of their parents.

High genetic merit parents had Estimated Breeding Values (EBV) above 120, medium merit parents had EBVs of 80 to 120 and low value parents below 80.

Foals from high-genetic merit mares made €2,201 more, on average, than foals out of low-genetic merit mares.

Another outcome from the study showed that foals out of 'premier' mares achieve, on average, €1,099 more than foals out of non-classified mares.

The research also showed that the pedigrees recorded in the sales catalogue when compared with the details recorded in the Irish Horse Register did not agree.

The sire of the dam was the most likely detail to be wrong, with 11pc of the sales entries differing from those in the IHR.

Dam performance had a significant effect on the price received for the foal. Foals out of mares with a performance got 40pc more than those out of mares with no record.

Now is the time to evaluate your mare. Do you get top prices for her foals? What can you say about her -- her conformation, movement and athleticism?

Is she a premier mare and do you mention that in the catalogue? Do you give an accurate description of her pedigree and have you an idea of her EBV?

In 'Profile of the Irish Sport Horse Industry 2007', the factors that influence the choice of stallion by breeders was investigated. Conformation, movement and athleticism, temperament and soundness are the most important factors.

Stallion performance, pedigree, breed, progeny and the ability to produce offspring that sell easily, and for a high price, are also important factors with over 90pc of breeders.

This probably comes as no surprise to any of us.

In reality, though, the picture seems to be different. Many of the foals seen at sales last year were not up to standard and there was little demand for them. Yes, they sell but at an uneconomic return to breeders.

The genetic merit of stallions is estimated and published annually as an EBV by the Irish Horse Board. These values can be used to compare the genetic merit of stallions.

In the Irish studbook, the Irish Sport Horse stallions have the highest value at 116.

Despite some criticism of the stallion selection and approval system, genetic progress is being made. The current crop of 10- and 12-year-old stallions have a much higher EBV than those born 10 years earlier.

A higher proportion of foals are sold by high EBV stallions -- 54pc versus 48pc for low EVB stallions. These foals also achieve a 44pc better price differential over those by low EBV stallions, and on average show a return of €1,133 more than those by low genetic stallions.

Foals by approved stallions achieve €412 more, on average, than those by unapproved ones.

You and I as breeders have to put all this information together and use it to select mares and stallions for breeding.

If we do not, we should be classified as horse 'multipliers' and not horse 'breeders'.

A breeder will aim to produce horses that will meet the market requirements and sell for an economic return.

Foals that have show-ring performance will command a higher price, and performance of any siblings will also help.

The colour may also influence the price, as does the month of birth. Early-born foals do make a slightly higher price.

In a downward market, these factors become even more important.

Lady luck will also play her part as sport horse colt foals sell better than fillies.

Now is the time to start planning your 2009 breeding programme. How well did you sell last year's foal? Is your mare good enough or did you choose the wrong stallion?

During the next couple of months, get as much information as you can.

Go and look at stallions either privately or at the stallion shows. There are too many poor quality foals being produced.

The old saying 'breed the best to the best' remains very true.

- Norman Storey

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