I can assume that you have already decided on the breed, genetics and type of horse which you need in a stallion for your herd. Genetics is very important in selecting a stallion and the subject must be studied by the breeder very thoroughly before any selection is made. In most breeds the color of the animal to be chosen is another factor. Equally important is the selection of type which also includes breed characteristics.
When I was actively raising foals I was constantly looking for my next stallion that would replace the one I was presently using. Following are some pointers that helped me in the selection of a stallion:
First of all, make a list of all of the good attributes which your mares have. This is very important. Go over your herd of mares and write all of their good points on paper.
This list is very important when used to select your future stallion. Here is the reason why it is so valuable.
I raised from 12 to 15 foals each year. Out of these I kept back my best one or two filly foals and sold off the others as yearlings. In a few years my mares were almost all home-raised and looked like peas in a pod.
When I was shopping for a stallion I would make up this list of the good points found in the mare herd so that I would not lose any of these attributes when purchasing a new stud for future use.
A stallion will pass to his offspring a good share of the genetic properties he carries. If you just buy a “mare freshner” you will always breed your herd of mares downhill even though you keep your best fillies for replacement.
The replacement stallion should have all of the good attributes found in the mare herd plus one or two factors you would like to add. When looking at a future stud prospect, always consider the list of good attributes found in the mares and make sure the stallion has them all.
Occasionally I will talk to a draft horse breeder about a stallion he or she has just purchased. They may say, for example, that the newly purchased animal has a smaller foot than they would like to see. However, they hasten to emphatically state that their mares have larger and good sound feet with excellent hoof walls and width of heel.
The truth is that what the mares are carrying is fine and dandy, but use this stud on them and the offspring will probably end up with “poorer quality feet than their dams.”
If you are purchasing a stallion to use on your herd, go over him the same as you would judge him in the show ring. Check out his head first as I described in the Autumn 2011 issue of The Draft Horse Journal. This exam will often help you to decide, very quickly, if you want to own him or not.
Make sure he is the correct type for you in that he will be capable of producing the type of foals that you desire from your mares. Get your hands on his legs and hoof heads. If you cannot see his heels, put your hands on them to determine their true width. This is especially important if he is shod or has so much feather that the hoof is covered.
Go over the stallion prospect very thoroughly. Watch him move at the walk and trot away from you and back to you. Back him up and see how he goes. It makes no difference if he is an aged animal or a yearling, be sure that you see him move.
There is one examination that you must do using either your eyes or your hand. You must determine for yourself that the stallion has two testicles and they are both down in the scrotum. Never ever, buy a horse, with one testicle down for breeding purposes. Using him to breed mares will pass this trait on for many generations.
I could tell you a ton of stories about horse breeders who purchased stallions with just one testicle. They never looked or felt the prospective herd sire. Sooner or later they discovered the truth and then, of course, the whole thing was "someone else’s fault." If you are the buyer, you determine the magic number: Two!
When buying a stallion, try to get as much history on him as you can. This includes that of the dam and sire as well. If it is possible, visit the sire or dam and go over them as thoroughly. Remember, almost all of the good and bad traits found in horses are inherited.
Show results may help you in the selection of a stallion. However, if the animal places first in a class of two at the local fair, do not become too excited about his ability to win in the show ring. If he was shown where the competion was numerous and tough, that presents a different scenario. Show results, if obtainable for the sire and dam, may be very helpful in evaluating the stud prospect, especially if he is a yearling or younger.
In today’s world of many mares being artificially inseminated, some draft horse breeders never see the sires of their mares offspring. That, I believe, is a serious shortcoming. If I was to use artificial insemination on my mares I would go visit the stallion, with a list of the mares' good points either in my head, or my hand. He would have to carry all of the good attributes of my mares, plus another outstanding feature, or I would not use him. I believe it is imperative to see for yourself what your herd sire is all about.
Above all, be absolutely positive that your future herd sire is sound, regardless of whether you own him, borrow him or use his semen for artificial insemination.
I have often heard that the stallion is not nearly as important to the herd as the individual, great, well-bred mare. Mares are very important. I have told you to make a list of their good attributes and not lose them in the selection of a herd sire. I personally believe a good stallion is 70% of your foal crop.
My mentor in the Belgian breeding business, Pete Bonthuis, was very emphatic about this years ago. He emphasized the fact that by using top-notch stallions on your mares and keeping back your very best fillies, you could soon improve your stock.
He and his brother, Mart, would go out into the farming communities here in northwest Iowa each fall and winter and buy broke geldings and ship them back east to horse buyers. After the field work was done, they bought and shipped carloads of these horses for the eastern markets. This was their business for many years.
Pete told me that around this area, at that time, most farmers belonged to co-ops or associations who bought a stallion or two and kept them to breed the members' mares. He said some outfits bought really good stallions and others just purchased what he called “mare freshners.” Old Pete was quick to say that he and his brother went first to the farmers who belonged to the groups who spent the most money on good stallions because from them they could buy the good geldings that brought the top dollar back east.
He told me those areas that used “cheapskate studs” had poor quality geldings for sale. He went on to say that their broke geldings were “sale barn stuff” because no eastern horse buyer wanted them.
Those horse-buying days of Pete and his brother are long gone but the lesson learned is still in use. If you are a draft horse breeder and you have a group of good sound mares, the next time you go “stud shopping,” take along a list of the herd’s attributes that you admire. Do not sacrifice any of them, but bring home a stallion that is sound and has all of the mares' attributes, plus at least one other feature which you are looking to include in your herd. The foals from this crop will almost always be better than those previously born and you will have a most marketable product to show and to sell.