This time, how to be a successful breeder. I know, with the current economy it's not exactly the best idea to begin breeding mares, however if you do so responsibly you might be well set by the time the market does pick up again.
In this day and age, running a successful breeding program is probably the most difficult business endeavor in the horse industry. Unlike the 1980’s where you could write off tremendous losses simply because you didn’t sell any horses for profit during the year, these days both the ability to make profits and the IRS’ vengeance in enforcing their standards of what really constitutes a business are a whole lot tougher than in years past.
Remember one thing, even if nothing else in this column sticks with you -- that old saying, “To make a small fortune in the horse business, start with a large fortune”, was stated by a jaded breeder for a reason!
One of your very first assignments should you be interested in pursuing the creation of your own breeding program is to outline, then detail, a business plan. This should include having a specific goal in mind of what type of horses you are seeking to produce and how you intend to become profitable when breeding them. You need to fully research what you’re about to jump into and do your homework in understanding the market before you start, and you’ll want to have a good idea about projections.
An excellent thing to remember and take to heart, however, is this: Make your decisions based on WHAT YOU LIKE in a horse rather than what’s popular in the marketplace simply because it’s popular. Should you get stuck during hard times in a down market with a bunch of horses you’ve bred yet are unable to sell right away, you want to be proud of what’s standing in your pasture and know that at least they’ll make your own family good show or trail horses if they have to remain on your feed bill for any length of time. If you like loud colored Paint horses, there’s a goal for your program. The fact they are very popular these days is simply a side benefit. If your preference is exotic Arabians, don’t try to breed Paints instead only to make money.
Most breeders start out collecting mares, and I suggest you utilize my rule of thumb in selecting breeding stock...better to begin with ONE good mare than several mediocre mares. Numbers isn’t where your success will lie. Success is breeding (and selling) QUALITY, not quantity. True, you may think you’ll make more money selling ten foals for $1,000 each than one for $5,000, but think of how much you’ll put out feeding ten mares as opposed to one, not to mention your vet bills, the farrier bills and all that dough expended for stud fees!
Select your stock by deciding what you want the horses you produce to be competitive in. Should you endeavor to breed winning Jumpers, understand that your initial investment in purchasing a Dutch Warmblood mare or two will be far higher than if you were buying Morgans. Sometimes you can find breeders retiring or otherwise going out of business, and you can get lucky. Every once in a while there may be a breeder who gets into a financial bind, and you can cash in on their misfortune by purchasing proven broodmares at rock bottom prices. Another important thing to remember, however, is that very rarely will you find a really great deal on a horse who someone else has consciously discarded. In other words, if you go to low end sales or horsetraders because someone told you about picking up a well bred mare for $700 or $800, don’t believe it. There WILL be a reason those mares aren’t in someone else’s pasture right now, and you don’t need to waste your hard earned dollars finding out the mare you got in the ‘deal of the century’ can’t conceive.
If you play your cards right, you’ll be able to find quality mares with outstanding conformation to fill your band. Each mare should have a special quality about her, ideal temperament and have accomplishments in her own right, be they a show record (preferably in your chosen discipline), a race record or that she’s produced top winning foals before. Unproven young mares are always a gamble, no matter how pretty or well put together they may be.
Then you need to consider stallions, and that will be one of the toughest hurdles to cross on your way to defining your program and setting your standards. As I’ve written before, when choosing a stallion for the perfect cross, he’s got to compliment the mare while adding good points to her already flawless conformation. Forget about using that crooked legged, short necked mare to produce Halter babies, no matter if the horse you’ve chosen to sire her foal is a National Champion. She won’t add any real benefit to the baby, and he’s sure not going to overcome all her shortcomings.
When breeding for performance disciplines, assuming your mare(s) have the qualities most necessary to compete where you want to be competitive, you want to look for a stallion that will also be able to hold his own. He should have an enviable show and production record, while having the right genes for the job. Before expending anything for stud fees, be sure to also talk to owners of his foals to see what marketing benefits, if any, are offered by the stallion owner. There may be incentives advertised, but you’ll want to be sure they follow through and there are no fine print restrictions that could prevent you from getting what you thought you were paying for. It’s also nice to hear what sort of support the stallion owner gives when it’s time to send baby out for training or competition.
No breeder ever made money by keeping every foal they produce, so you need to be sure you have an advertising and promotion budget along with your acquisition and maintenance funding. The earlier you can sell your babies, the more profit you’ll realize when you sell them. To put a price tag on the young ones you offer for sale, take into account how much it costs each month to feed them and provide basic care, including farrier and veterinary expenses. If you’re putting out an average of $100 per month, per horse, by the time a foal is a yearling, you already have $1200 invested and that doesn’t include the initial stud fee. To break even you’ll probably need to ask upwards of $4-5k for that yearling and THAT won’t include any conditioning, training or showing expenses incurred.
The marketplace demands respect and it also demands diligence in educating one’s self. Find out what other farms are asking for the fruits of their programs and ask around to see what sort of profit you may be able to expect. Don’t think your first year in business you’re going to bring in enough to put you on easy street and remember that it will take quite some time to build your reputation in the industry.
Eventually, you may be inclined to purchase your own stallion, but there are several do’s and don’ts everyone should realize. Use the same caution and care in selecting a stud prospect, and be sure he’s fertile before you begin offering him to the public at stud. One recommendation that works for some folks is to lease mares. The opportunities this will give you is twofold: You will be able to better direct where those initial foal crops end up and you can begin to build a name for yourself a little more quickly than having only a mare or two of your own, or just standing the stallion to outside mares. Use a part of your farm’s name or your initials in naming those foals and after several years of people seeing your moniker stamped on high quality babies, they will begin to seek you out when looking for their next purchase.
Whatever you do, be sure to use all the resources available to you and study what works AND what doesn’t work religiously. That way you’ll be even better equipped to move into the brave new world of horse breeding for profit.