A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses

I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Overbreeding vs. Any Breeding

I am breeding for next year.  While the stallion and mares have made a few alterations to my plans - O wanted nothing to do with Dove even in standing heat - I am planning to have approximately 6 foals.  Let me explain that.  I am breeding for 6 foals, but not all of my mares may catch, and if they come up open, I won't rebreed them, unless it's Hex, Jinx, or Nazar.  So I could have as few as 3, or as many as 6, and being only 7 days in, it's a BIT early to be sure.

With that said, most of us know that there is an overpopulation problem in horses.  Does that mean I should stop breeding all together?

Some would say "Yes".

Instead, I feel that it's my job to do 2 things: Breed the best and most desirable horses I can, and be responsible enough to care for that horse until it's last day if I need to.

Now, because I'm involved in the Sugarbush Draft Horse, a rare breed of horse with only 12 (almost 13... due in June) remaining horses, my breeding options are kinda limited.  We have ONE stallion in the breed, that's it.  Most of the horses are related to him in some form (siblings, offspring, etc).  We cross to draft horses with the ideal conformation, and I aim for the whole package - conformation, personality, athleticism, and color.

Of course, because we're not on the American Livestock Breed Conservancy List, we can't be a "real" breed, but how many people actually look at what it takes to be ON that list?  A minimum of available bloodlines.  One of the criteria is 20 unrelated female lines.  Uh, yeah, we don't have that since we only have TWELVE horses total.  Also, after speaking with them, there is some concern that our records are a bit TOO good.  Because this breed was intentionally developed, it won't qualify for many many years.  Now, if we had found O in a pasture some where, with no known ancestry, we would have a few other options.  That makes no sense to me.  I mean, back yard breeding with no record keeping gets precedence over intentional phenotypical selection?  Their theory is that if you know what you did, you can do it again, but sheesh.... that's a whole lifetime at LEAST to get back to where we are!  Who wants to spend 50+ years just to get something that "once was"?  But hey, who am I?  Ok... I'm only a bit biased.

At any rate, every year around this time, those of us who are working to save these horses start hearing the same song and dance.  It goes something like "That's not a REAL breed, you're just breeding mutts!" or "you need to stop the BYB" or "Don't you know how many horses go to slaughter each year?".

Well, I think I've addressed the first point.  The second is nothing more then opinion.  I mean, my horses are kinda in my back yard, since I live on the property... but 32 acres is a bit large to be a back yard.  Seriously though, I do my research, have a life long commitment to the horses, and they are kept in good health.  Am I perfect?  No, but I'm working hard to get closer every day.

And as for the last point, well, that's kinda what gets me!  Every year masses of people pump money into one of the biggest over breeding industries there is for horses - Thoroughbred race horses.  The Kentucky Derby was last weekend, and the press was all over it, but I never once heard any complaints about the mass breeding used to get the handful of champions on race day.  Nor did I hear any one talk about those horses who did not make the cut, and how to care or help them.  I didn't see my Facebook pages lit up with rescues using the day as a way to get donations (which would have been smart in my opinion) nor ads for OTTBs ready for a new home.  Why not? 

Or lets look at a few other breeds, the American stock horse breeds.  There are no breeding criteria for those horses, except pedigree restrictions.  Quality is something that each specific breeder has complete control over.  Some excell at this, and others don't.   How many times have we seen news articles about Quarter Horses being seized in mass, or Paints, or Appaloosas?  As the breed becomes more popular, it becomes harder and harder to control who is able to do what, with out having illegal restrictions.  Because those registries (and many others) have no rules about what is breeding quality, they run the risk of someone deciding that because it has a uterus, and this one is still intact, that they should make babies.

Even with only a handful of horses left, we do not do that.  We have an amazing mare that is just lovely in all ways.  She does not have the LP color that the breed is known for, and is a full sister to O, so this limits her breeding options if her owner wants a colored foal from her.  She can only produce a part bred (Stonewall Sport Horse) or cross to a Stonewall Sport Horse - and there's not many breeding stallions in that registry that I know of.  Should the mare be pulled from breeding?  Nope!  Her owner decided to cross her down a generation, to get the color and shoulder back in, and then cross that foal (if breeding quality) back up into the SDHR, as per the rules.  Yeah, it takes longer, and is much more of a commitment in both effort and money, but it's the right way to do it.  She could cross her to something big black and hairy, and just sell the babies on as some one else's problem, but instead she's trying to get the total package.  And that is what a good breeder does.  They don't take the short cuts, they do things that will ultimately be the best for the breed.

And it's not like we have a problem selling the Sugarbush Drafts, nor the Stonewall Sport Horses.  People love them, and they are produced in few enough numbers so that there are more potential buyers and good homes, then horses needing that home.  I'm not the only one that does this, all of our current SDHR breeders feel this way.  Just stop for a second, and imagine a registry that actually puts the HORSE above the money.  That's what we're trying to do.

So what I keep trying to wrap my mind around, is why ANY breeding is looked down upon.  If we don't present ourselves to be the wealthiest, snobbiest, "better then thou" type of person, then all too often society assumes that we're just morons pumping out horses of poor quality.  And yet we hate the people who act like those snobs that are "better" then us (in their own minds).  Too often, we as horse buyers dump money in to "save" a horse that is in a bad situation, unknowingly reaffirming to the breeder that they should breed more because they are now "making money".  It's OUR actions, the horse community, that makes this such a fuzzy picture and so hard to define.

I think it's a pretty easy thing though.  I have a few rules that I use to decide if I'm breeding this year:

  1. Do I have the money, and am I prepared to spend it.  Because not every breeding is easy, and a good stallion is rarely free.  I own my own, and still use outside stallions when I feel it's the best option, and let me tell you, neither is cheap!
  2. Am I financially able to handle that I might lose money?  I might, I might not, but there's no way of knowing.  Even the best quality foal could cost more in medical bills then it would ever make back, and things happen in utero that no geneticist could ever prepare for... wry nose anyone?
  3. Have I done my research?  Yeah, when crossing my own mares to my own stallions I only have to do this once, because the research will be the same, or nearly so, everytime (some crosses might look good on paper, but not be something I'll repeat).  If I'm not willing to put 6 - 8 hours into researching the breeding what makes me think I'll have time to handle the foaling, or the foal?
  4. Am I knowledgeable enough to foal out the mare?  What if NI is a problem?  What if the foal ultra-sounded as being in a poor position? Am I up to date on all the medical knowledge I need to handle a distocia?  I am, and in those rare cases I'm not (I'm not up to day on NI) then I know who to pay to handle it for me, or I plan far enough in advance to get trained up.  You know, like a year before the mare is even exposed to the stallion!
  5. Can I handle the heart break?  There's always something that goes wrong.  I have been present or "nearly" present (went to the bathroom, got a coffee, etc) at every foaling I've had.  I've missed a few, but it was always so close that if there had been a problem, I would have had more then enough time to correct it.  I've handled redbag births, shoulder locks, and twisted foals, all with no loss of foal.  Does that mean I'm some kind of amazing person?  No, it means the chances that my next baby could be lost is that much higher.  I'm prepared for it, and I do everything I can to minimize it, but I'm also able to accept the potential loss.  If I ever have to choose, I know that I would save the mare over the foal, even if her days of breeding are over.I LOVE my horses, each and every one, but I also love my breed and don't want to see it die out.

7 comments:

  1. There is a lot of bad breeding, both inside and outside registries, but your program and approach are well thought out and executed. The TB and QH "industries" - and I use that term in the industrial sense - churn out thousands of horses every year many of whom don't end up in good places. You are to be commended for your thoughtfulness and dedication.

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  2. I'm excited for you and hope this is the year you get your leopard. I'm especially excited about the 3 Sugarbush foals, although I'm anxious to see what Dream throws, and Arden, if she gets in the lineup.

    I love that pic of Streaker Daltrey!

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  3. Seems to me like you have a good program with realistic and attainable goals. You are breeding for quality marketable stock and clearly seem to have a good market at that. I raise betwen 2-3 a year , simply because that is what I have the stock, space , time and market for .Could I breed more, well I have the stock and the space , and some years even the market but not the time to raise a quiet easy to handle well mannered saleable product , so I need all the "ducks in a row " to make my decision. I work on the theory that you breed horse to improve and compliment the breed , quality ,conformation , temperament ...There are in fact a lot of unwanted horse out there , but is that due to numbers or lack of quality?I suspect a bit of both but I have never heard "there are too many good horses"

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  4. There are too many cats, dogs, and, given the foster rolls, children.

    It's about being responsible, not giving up. We would have no problem if others thought out their choices as well as you have.

    May they all be lovely, healthy babies!

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  5. Dare I mention that I don't always breed either? (I had 0 foals this year) And some years I only breed one or 2. If things go better then I planned, and I end up with extra space, I take in horses in bad situations, and retrain them. To my way of thinking, we have a full time operation here (although it's all family working) and we 3 FULL time (i.e. 24/7) people as well as all the friends of the farm, we can handle a lot more then the average person, so why not save a horse when we can?

    I stopped breeding light horses for now, because the market is dead. At the same time, the drafts are flying out the door faster then I can breed them. That to me, tells me what I should be breeding. Does that mean I'm going to dump my light horses? OH HELL NO! Even the second chance horses I have come through here have a place for life with me. If some one comes along wanting one, they will get the same reference and back ground check as some one wanting a horse I have a million people begging for. My horses, each and every one, are my babies.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm completely against over breeding, but with only 12 horses left, SOMEONE has to breed another Sugarbush, or the breed will die. Cleveland Bays are the same way, as are so many other lovely breeds. I have no problem with people who breed quality, and who are responsible about what they do. I'm just a bit sick of hearing that anyone breeding SDHR horses must be a BYB because "I've never heard of those before". Well Duh, that's kinda been our problem.

    It's my opinion that over breeding is not "breed" specific (or specific to mutts/grade horses) but rather it's all about the quality.

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  6. I love your blog :) I especially loved your color genetics lessons and give you two thumbs up for this well considered article. I have a mountain stallion and a couple of mountain mares. Like you, I don't breed every year, though there are plenty of breeders in my area who leave a stud turned out with 20 mares, then try to sell the weanlings for an exhorbitant amount. We love our silver dapples and it seems that no matter what, people will buy color over quality. It's hard to find a happy medium.

    We have no foals due this year, and only two planned for next year. One will be to an outside stallion (because I want that baby--a filly of course ;) to be bred to MY stallion when she's old enough) and sometimes the research involved makes my head hurt.

    I think you're doing a great thing. And you're passionate within clearly defined perimeters. More power to you! Here's to six healthy babies next year!

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  7. I love your blog :) I especially loved your color genetics lessons and give you two thumbs up for this well considered article. I have a mountain stallion and a couple of mountain mares. Like you, I don't breed every year, though there are plenty of breeders in my area who leave a stud turned out with 20 mares, then try to sell the weanlings for an exhorbitant amount. We love our silver dapples and it seems that no matter what, people will buy color over quality. It's hard to find a happy medium.

    We have no foals due this year, and only two planned for next year. One will be to an outside stallion (because I want that baby--a filly of course ;) to be bred to MY stallion when she's old enough) and sometimes the research involved makes my head hurt.

    I think you're doing a great thing. And you're passionate within clearly defined perimeters. More power to you! Here's to six healthy babies next year!

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