Saturday, April 19, 2008

To Breed or Not to Breed

I've been struggling with some decisions here on my Arabian horse farm and I just can't make up my mind. Then I found that Anne at smellshorsey is struggling about the same thing. While the circumstances are different, the end result is the same, should I or shouldn't I breed must be on the minds of lots of mare owners this year.

Last year I went through the same quandary. I posted about Breeding Season Decisions for the Small Arabian Horse Breeder I ended up only breeding one mare. I made that decision so late, that the mare isn't even due to foal for another month. If I'm going to breed again this year, I need the foal to be earlier so foaling isn't happening in the middle of show season. That means I need to make a decision soon, if not now.

Last year I planned to breed two of my Scandalous Legacy daughters this year. I had the stallions picked out and I even paid one of the stud fees. I bought it at a stallion service auction for a fraction of the price and paid for it at the time. If I don't use it, I will lose my investment and the futurity nominations that come along with the package. This amounts to a considerable chunk of change.

That breeding is for Scandalous Dare. The mare is nine years old and is still a maiden mare(another good reason to breed). The breeding is to the AQHA stallion, The Mighty Oak. He is a reining champion and is siring great half-Arabian foals. The market for half-Arabian reining prospects is going through the roof. The mare is about as talented as they come. It should be a dream foal.

The second mare I planned to breed is Scandalous Hope. I planned to breed her to the Arabian stallion, Apaladin. He is a English pleasure and halter champion. A beautiful grey horse with lots and lots of heart. They are selling his foals to South Africa for good money. This should also be a dream foal. I have spoken with the owner and she will allow me to breed next year for the same price(even though his stud fee is expected to go up) as I would have paid this year. So I have put this breeding on hold until next year.

Money and the market are at the root of my concern. I haven't sold a horse since last summer. My reserves have never been replenished since the birth of the twins. Worrying about finances makes for stressful times here on this breeding farm.

Since I have already paid the stud fee on the breeding the only outlay I would have would be the fees for shipping semen and the vet. My daughter volunteered to help me pay those. But those expenses are not the only issues with money I am worrying about.

My fear has to do with the market and the economy. Closing the slaughter houses and a number of natural disasters across this country have resulted in a glut of unwanted horses. That really kills the local market.

Normally I don't worry about the local market. I know that that is not my target market. I also know that my target market is still strong. Top quality, trained Arabian show horses are bringing record prices. Not to mention the fact that the population of Arabian horses in this country is aging. Most registered Arabians are twenty years and older. As those horses die off, the market is going to shoot through the roof. Breeders who have managed to hold on to this point will be in good shape.

However, the local market is what I depend on if I get into financial trouble. Normally I can drop a top quality horse on the market at a discount and generate some cash flow. It's not my favorite decision to make but it can keep me out of trouble. In today's market, I wonder if I still have that option.

With the rising price of diesel, now $2.65 a gallon (whoops that's a typo, fuel here is $4.65 a gallon) right down the road from me, I know the prices of everything are going up. I have found a good supplier for my hay but expect to see price hikes. I've also found a source for bulk grain so I've knocked the price I was paying there nearly in half. But again due to fuel prices I expect to see that creep right back up where it was. Feeding 28 horses means those increases add up really fast.

If all these things keep rising, that compromises my show fund. Since showing horses at nationals or Scottsdale is what I need to do to get top prices, not making it to the shows really shoots me in the foot. That is the thing that scares me most. If I don't sell a horse within the next twelve months I will be in a world of hurt, or that's my fear anyway.

Also, due to my injury and illness this winter, I do not have the young stock ready to be shown under saddle this year. That will make it more difficult to get them sold. The odds are I won't sell something until it's in the ring unless Rhythm's arrival on the show scene generates some interest.

If I quit breeding, that is the first step in putting an end to this dream. That's the only thing I am sure of. Do I trust myself and the caliber of horse I've breed and follow the dream? Or do I go with my fear, give up this dream and begin shutting this place down?

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  1. Wow, those are some tough questions. From what I know of you from your blog, if you follow your heart you'll make the right decision.

    I bought diesel today for $4.49/gal. Ouch. I feel your pain. Just to haul to Donida and back was nearly $50.

  2. While you probably shouldn't follow the advice of a 22yr old dreamer, I feel if you aren't fighting for what you dream what are you doing? Life without dreams to chase loses some meaning eh.

  3. Funny how different things look from over here. We were aghast when we noticed diesel was up to £1.17 a LITRE yesterday! I hate to think what that is in gallons! But then I only have to drive about 10 miles to get to the nearest feed-merchant!

  4. First, $2.65 for diesel out by you? WOW. Deisel here is over $4 per gallon. In a conversation with friends in upstate (rural) NY, I found out that diesel there is over $4.50 per gallon. Gas is rapdily closing on the $4 mark here.

    Not good for anyone. But when you think about having to sell a horse- ANY horse- in this econimic mess generated BY the high fuel costs... It would be enough to make me feel physically ill.

    You have a great point MiKael, about the high end Arabians, and the need to responsibly keep the population available here. I think I would do as you are- use the breeding you paid for, hold the other one, and ... wait. This econimic slow down can not continue- things have got to level out again. Things will be changed ever more, but they have got to level out.

    Easier said than done, I know...

    I dont envy any breeder right now. Or anyone that has to sell a horse right now. Keep your chin up MiKael, and know that we are pulling for you out here.

  5. I really hope you don't give up on your dream. Marge stopped breeding foals and that was indeed the end of her breeding business. When the day came that she reluctantly gelded the last colt out of her cherished Crabbet mare line she was devastated. "My dream ends here" she said in tears. Eventually the last of her broodmares were put down due to age (all four reaching at least 28 years old), and now she just has that gelding and her stallion. It's really had an effect on her and she isn't as into the barn and her horses anymore. I think she'd just too sad about it to want to care enough to feel bad, so she just feels nothing at all.

    I know everything is costing more - grain, hay, and also sawdust in our area. But I hope you can breed just one foal and hang in there. We're all pulling for you. Someone's got to keep breeding quality Arabians so that all of us with older horses can have nice options for a new horse when the time comes.

  6. Oh Mikael,

    I have been in your shoes. Giving up raising Paint horses was so hard for me. It was my dream but the market and the show scene were not at all what I expected and I made the choice. I miss it some days but as you know I am now living another dream (or nightmare like yesterday!). Thanks for all your incouraging words of support you blog friends really keep me striving to do better. Follow your gut instincts on the horses and remember you can always dream another dream!

  7. I would be cautious, but don't give up. The Arabian breeder I know has a handful of pre-paid breedings that she is still using, and other people have offered to purchase some of those breedings from her, but she won't part with them. She's not letting the economy slow down her business. In fact, she acts like she isn't aware of those problems. She doesn't sell a horse more than every 1 to 3 years. I had to rely on those hardship discounts you talk about in order to buy my horses. I got every one of mine for half price through good timing. I feel guilty in some ways, because I know Arabian breeders depend on the buyers to show their horses to generate more interest, and I've fallen short in that department. So, I help my horse breeders in other ways, such as word-of-mouth.

  8. Hey I know you have to consider practicalities but MiKael, when did you last let fear dictate your actions? And how did you feel about that.

    Follow your dream

  9. Whoa! At least get that one mare bred to the quarter horse. That foal sounds like a bread-n-butter baby to me.
    I think the nation will start mending next year after this election. Prices are so out of whack now, I understand your dilemma.

  10. MiKael, I'm not a breeder, so don't have much experience with this issue, but I do hear a lot of local breeders talking about exactly what you're describing. I also hear a lot about the frustrations of trying to run any sort of horse operation as a means of earning regular income. (instruction, boarding, etc.)

    I hope you'll write more as you come to a decision. It's both interesting and important to read about these issues - as costs rise and the market shifts, what happens?

  11. Also, I'm starting to see mixed signs regarding the impending recession. While RVs and horse trailers are going up for sale, and some small businesses are closing, we went shopping yesterday and found the stores to be crowded. Upon hunting down a place to eat for dinner, we turned ourselves away from three restaurants because the waiting lists and lines were too long. I've also been noticing a lot of brand new cars on the road. So, it appears that only some of us are feeling the affects of the downtrodden economy, but positive things seem to be stirring for others. I've been through this rags to riches to rags to riches game so often in my life that I know money problems are only temporary and can be resolved through a little more elbow-grease or ingenuity or luck.

  12. Why not just skip one year? You dont have to breed every year to still be a breeder to have your dream. Or just have one baby as you say.

    The market will pick back up again. Its soft here too. No one is buying. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the person who is coming to see Sam loves him.

  13. You're right, a tough decision. The economy is not going to get better any time soon. I believe it's going to get alot worse. This is only the tip of the iceburg, but if you have the stallion fees already paid for then it makes it an even tougher decision. Good luck.

  14. You are not alone. I'll be having just one foal this year, too -- and it was a commissioned breeding so the foal is already sold. Though I *think* I'll have a market when 2009 foals will be ready for sale, I can't be sure...and costs are up, like you said...over $4.25 per gallon for diesel here! And yet, there is that dream...

    Good to see you over on The Barb Wire, BTW. :-) Welcome!

  15. Boy, really hard decisions this year Mikael,l thanks for sharing your thought process with us. Scary times: Fuel prices are going up, hay prices in a lot of areas are going up and will continue upwards with more land being turned over to corn (don't get me started on why ethanol is an environmental and economic nightmare). The horse market is in about as bad a state it seems as the housing market.

    Sorry, I don't have any good advise on whether to use your paid for breeding or not, but know you'll make the right decision for your horses and your farm. It was interesting to hear the Arabian crosses are having a resurgence. I love the QH/Arab cross; it seems like it typically produces the best of both worlds.

  16. Oh, what a beautiful little colt.
    One of my favorite pasttimes on the farm was watching the baby animals. They are so cute running around and playing.

    FYI...diesel fuel here is $4.19 a gallon.

    Off I go to vote for you!!

  17. I've been debating this same thing. I have 4 foals due this year and all were pre-purchased with a non-refundable deposit down. Every single buyer backed out. Now I have 4 foals to sell. The first one should be dropping any day. At least I get to keep the deposit, but selling weanlings is hard to do.

    I think that you should do the one breeding at least and concentrate on getting your youngsters under saddle. Rythm will generate interest and you'll need those horses ready to go to keep the interest up.

    Once the interest is there you'll need the foals to keep the interest up. You breed/sell performance horses, once people see them performing they'll come. I don't think it would be good to say in 4 or 5 years not to have a foal out there performing. Missing a year in the show ring (even if it's not you showing the horse) can be detrimental to any breeding business.

    Money is tight everywhere. Those people shopping and driving new cars are living on credit. As long you don't do that you won't feel the crunch near as hard as those that are using credit for everything.

    We're searching for another source for hay right now. I have found that buying by the semi, two or three at a time is way cheaper than by the ton. I just have to figure out a way to store 80 tons of hay...

    Whatever you decide will be right for you. I'm still debating on next year. I know I will breed two mares for sure (they're on lease and I'm under contract to breed them) but the other two... We'll see.

  18. My friend just left a job at an arab breeding farm and they are looking to get most of their mares pregant during thier foal heats. I asked what about recession. Feeding baby horses that cannot be bought is not free. The answer I got back was not having any horse to sell doesn't bring in any money either. I say go for the one breeding to the quarter horse because at 9 your mare is not getting any younger and this way you are giving yourself an option to make more income later.

  19. MiKael I feel your pain, you know my story. I also decided not to breed any mares this year and we only had the one foal last year, but I am going to put everything on hold until things improve, if they do. Hell if I was closer I would be in my element $2.60 odd for diesel is great we are paying $4.30 a gallon at the moment!!!!!!

    I really dont think that you will be giving up your dream if you take a year off and concentrate on what stock you have with no worries of stretching yourself even thinner with a new foal crop next year. You have enough horses there to keep the dream alive, I know it is a hard decision. I would definitely use the breeding already paid for, that is too good to pass up.

  20. MiKael, I am not am expert by any means, but I would go for the Arab/QH breeding. Don't give up on your dream yet. Your Scandalous horses are some of the prettiest Arabians I've ever seen. Someone who knows the breed and what they are doing has to keep at it, even if it just becomes a smaller operation and you only produce one or two foals a year. Things always have a way of working out! If it makes you feel any better, I am hanging by my last penny have just one horse of my own. I really questioned whether I could afford it and the logical answer was no. But you only live once and I decided I was going to make it work because it makes me so happy. So far, it is working out fine! Best wishes.

  21. This is a hard decision and you make good points for both sides of the argument you are having with yourself. I never like to do anything without thinking it through thoroughly. It seems you have done this and still it is a hard decision,with the country and the economy the way it is, who knows when it will change and in which direction it will go in. I am not a breeder, so don't know if any input I would have would help you any. If you already paid for a breeding to the QH, why don't you do it, and hold off on the other one. Follow your heart and your dreams and it may all be okay. Things always seem to have a way of working themselves out,you have so many horses now that one more will not make a difference and that one more may turn out to be the turning point in your breeding business. Good Luck with whatever you decide.

  22. MiKael-
    Very hard decisions in front of you...
    Some things I would like to add...

    You are very determined or you wouldn't have gotten this far.

    You have overcome some difficult things in your life.

    I think that you will find in your heart whether or not you are going to breed. You just have to decide what your priorities are right now I guess.

    Can you skip a year as someone suggested? Because you are a year late with the the young ones, you will still have some to put out there.

    Good luck, and let is know!

    PS... How is Dandy?

  23. I understand your questioning whether to breed this year. Last year we tried to breed my daughter's Arab mare to a BIG name stallion and it didn't take. We can't decide whether to try again this year or not. After blowing through a couple thousand dollarsin vet bills last year trying to breed her and no results, I can't afford to do it again this year. My daughter is getting married in May and starting Vet school in the fall. I really have to ask myself if we were successful with the breeding, can we even afford to keep the baby. We have to board, and we're already boarding two horses. Even the rebreed fee to carry the breeding into this year is staggering. (I don't understand these rebreed fees, seems like just another way to line the millionare owner's pockets.) We're also playing against the clock as the mare is ten this year and still maiden. For some reason it seems that Arab stud fees are much higher than other breeds, and it's rare to find a top quality stallion that will live cover. I'm almost wishing now we would have bought a breeding to a good quarter horse reiner instead of a big name halter stallion. It seems to be a growing market and the horse doesn't have to be picture perfect to do well as a reiner. Aww, decisions, decisions.

  24. Mikael, these really are trying times. Put it all down on paper, pros and cons and see how close the columns line up. Then swing towards your dream if the pros are close.

    I agree with whomever said to breed to the QH. Your mare will be more valuable in the long run, and you will have a marketable foal.

    Good Luck with your decision.

  25. Whatever you decide make it a forward decision. There are many ways towards the dream but I think the most important thing is to keep moving as if we stay still we go backwards.
    I hate decisions but please don't give up!