Breeding soundness examination

When a visiting mare is introduced to your stud, it could bring in fatal diseases. Don’t take a chance – ensure that the horse is thoroughly examined beforehand, says Dr Mac.

Breeding soundness examination
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If you are considering buying a broodmare or bringing in a visiting mare, and using a stallion as live cover, you are strongly advised to arrange for a complete breeding soundness examination.

An equine practitioner experienced in stud management is your best choice for conducting this examination. Large stud farms in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal usually work through the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, and specialist vets visit the farms on a rotational basis to evaluate mares prior to the breeding season.

A large stud of another popular breed, such as the Arabian, Boerperd, Warmblood, Friesian or American Saddler, might be able to arrange for a vet to check your broodmare.

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Alternatively, you can insist that owners wanting to bring mares to your stallion first take the mares to a specialised equine practice for a breeding soundness certification.

How it works
An equine vet who has specialised in reproduction will examine the mare, focusing initially on the functional conformation and structure of the external genital region and udder. Rectal palpation of the uterus and ovaries follows.

Ultrasonography (sonar) is then used to investigate the structure and functioning of the ovaries. A sonar will also show cysts or the presence of pus or fluid in the uterus. These are likely to make a mare infertile and need to be treated.

Sometimes the sonar image reveals the presence of a foetus in a broodmare that is not supposed to be in foal! If the mare is not in foal, a speculum is inserted into the vagina for visual inspection of the membranes and cervix. Thereafter, a sterile swab is inserted through the cervix to check for aerobic bacterial infections of the endometrium (lining of the womb).

Another swab is taken from the clitoral area. In older mares that have already foaled, a biopsy from the endometrium will show if the mare is able to carry a foal.

Presence of bacteria
Aerobic culture of the swab is used to diagnose the presence of bacteria known to cause infertility or abortion (Klebsiella, Pseudomonas, Salmonella abortus equi, E. coli, Streptococcus zooepidemicus and S. equisimilus).

A high growth of non-specific bacteria indicates a low-grade uterine infection, often related to poor conformation of the vagina (wind sucking) or pooling of urine in the vagina.

The vet will also draw blood to check for dourine, equine viral arteritis and equine herpes virus.

A certificate stating that there are no infectious diseases (especially strangles) on the premises is also a good idea.

Serious breeders make money out of selling foals and services to stallions. If a visiting mare brings in an infection that causes abortion (such as herpes) or infertility (Klebsiella or Pseudomonas) a large proportion of the foal crop can be lost.

Strangles (equine distemper)can be fatal, especially in foals, and dourine can result in stud animals being culled. These are convincing reasons for conducting breeding soundness examinations of any strange mare entering the stud.

Dr Mac is an academic, a practising equine veterinarian and a stud owner.

Digital editor for South Africa's oldest and most read farming magazine.