Breeding Horses

If one has a large enough farm, is breeding horses worth while?

If we were asked to answer this question from personal experience in raising horses and observation of other successful farmers who have been in the business as horse breeders for a number of years we would answer yes - especially if the farmer loves good horses.

For several years we have been giving special attention to raising a few horses on our farm, both for the market and to establish a strong team force for farm purposes, and we have found effort not only profitable from a financial standpoint, but we have been able to maintain a strong, heavy, three-team force on our farm at a very moderate cost. This article about horse breeders and raising horses contains some timeless hints even though written in the early twentieth century.

Had we been compelled to purchase the teams we now have and maintain on our farm we have a good reason to believe we would have found very little profit in farming the last few years, as good draft horses have been commanding unusually large prices, to say nothing of the risk run in purchasing draft teams.

About 10 years ago, before we began as horse breeders, we found it necessary to purchase an additional heavy draft horse team to handle our farm work. We were very fortunate in finding a fine young horse in our neighborhood, but desiring to match a team we set out to find another of as nearly the same type and disposition as possible.

After traveling not less than 1000 miles in various directions, most of the time outside of our own county, we found a horse that while it did not match the one we had previously purchased we thought would answer the purpose. We paid the owner what we thought was a good price for the horse, something better than $200.

In less than four months the horse showed a very nervous temperament and would not work agreeably with the horse we had formally purchased. Before the working season was over we were compelled to make another purchase, and after three weeks of diligent searching found another horse that was not just what was desired but we bought anyway. These three horses now represent an investment of over $600 to say nothing of the five weeks traveling to find them. At various times we did come across good teams for sale but as we were needing a single horse we could not make a purchase that would break up well matched teams. Two of the three horses we purchased were geldings. We simply call attention to this part of our experience of purchasing horses for farm purposes and to show the readers what a great scarcity there is of good draft horses throughout the farming country and the great need of more attention being paid to breeding and raising good horses of all types on the farm.

Success in breeding and raising horses on the farm depends more than any other one thing upon the farmer himself or herself. We do not think that any farmer could have success in handling horses unless in possession of a natural love for the equines. The person who goes into raising any kind of farm livestock simply for the purpose of making money is doomed to ultimate disappointment. The horse above all other domestic animals needs kind treatment and unless you can give this we would recommend that leaving the horse totally alone and choose some profession in which the horse is not required. The horseman who does not place the service of the horse next to his own should never be allowed to care for and handle the most faithful servant of mankind. The horseman, we believe, can succeed in raising horses and make the business profitable if willing to make some sacrifices. It is an old adage that a boy is a boy and likewise a colt is a colt and he who does not possess the spirit to enjoy their frolic and fun should be content with a less dignified occupation.

The question of compensation realized from breeding and raising horses on the farm is the first to appeal to the farmer. Most farmers are ready and anxious to take up with an enterprise that gives promise of returning a fair profit. We do not believe we have ever made another financial venture that has paid better returns for the amount of care and attention than have our horses.

A careful study of the market reveals the fact that horses of all kinds that are of the desired type and confirmation have commanded unusually high and steady prices for the last eight or 10 years. There is a great scarcity of good horses in every state. We believe we are living in a locality that possesses as good general purpose horses as any in the state. And while we have a large number of well-mated teams we have very few unmated horses for the market, and what few do come to maturity are quickly purchased at good prices and are either mated or shipped. In the last two weeks we have seen three teams change hands, one selling for $560 and one for $520 while the third brought $490. Can the farmer afford to produce this class of horses? It is my candid opinion that there is a grand good opportunity for farmers to make money by raising a few horses each season and marketing when they have reached maturity.

A great many farmers feel they cannot afford to raise the class of horses that are commanding good prices on account of the risk of losing the animal. Now let us consider this question from the standpoint of economic production. This is what we have gained from experience. We would rather pay $10 more for the service of the best stallion we can find than use one that we know is below the average. As to the additional cost of maintaining good breeding mares, we consider this in our favor because we have for doing my farm work the service of the best kind of team horse. It will not cost one cent more for care and food to raise a good colt then a poor one, if both are brought to the same stage of maturity. If the horse is to be marketed the colt from the best will in most cases outsell a colt from the cheaper horse by anywhere from $50-$125. Now, is not this sufficient to convince any clear thinking farmer that the best breed of horse is worth the cost from the start? It is my opinion based upon observation and experience that if there is any money or pleasure to be derived from the breeding and raising of horses on the farm it must come from producing the very highest type of animal and the kind that is in demand.

For the farmer who has a limited area that he can devote to pasture each season we would recommend breeding the heavy class of horses. There are several reasons for this. In the first place very few farmers are horsemen enough to select and produce the fancy roadster. That requires the very best talent to breed and train horses that develop into attractive roadsters and if few farmers are adapted to this undertaking.

However, we would not discourage any farmer from going into the business if she feels she can breed the class of horse that is in demand.

Second, the heavy horse is preferable because there is less risk in the growth and development of the young stock. Heavy draft colts are very quiet and easy to manage and seldom give trouble about running in the pasture. Third, we have a type of horse that the farmer needs and through constant association with this class of horse has become proficient handling and selecting breeding stock.

Our plan of raising colts is to breed working mares during the months of June, July or August and keep the mares in the harness every day of the year except about two weeks at foaling time. We found this method of handling mares has several advantages. In the first place the raising of colts does not interfere with my farm work to any large extent as the colts are foaled long after the springtime work is done and before the heavy cultivating is on. I find that I can raise better colts by keeping my mares in the harness then I can buy turning them out to pasture. If the mares are working every day they get their grain ration regularly and the milk flow is more constant and nutritious. As soon as a mare foals she has turned out for two or three days on light pasture with her foal and is allowed to regain her normal condition before being put back into the harness.

During the first four weeks of the colt’s life he is allowed to nurse five times daily; then is allowed to nurse only three times a day with a light feed of bran and oil cake. We do not believe in allowing my colts to accompany the damn during the working hours of the day. We have box stalls with a small paddock adjoining that furnishes exercising space where the colts are confined during the time the mares are at work. Of course it is very necessary to take great precautions not to overheat the mares while at work during the period they are nursing their growing colt.

The colt at the age of six months should be weaned and placed upon his own responsibility. It is the critical period In the life of the colt . It rests almost entirely on the horse breeder whether or not the colt develops into a horse that will return good profit or result in loss. We have seen numerous instances where foals giving evidence at weaning of making fine horses were practically ruined from lack of proper care and feed during the first three years of growth. No other farm’s stock possesses the ability to speak more emphatically for its owner's skill in feeding and care in growing animals than a young colt.

If there is an abundance of good pasture available, it is the best food within reach to put the colt upon as soon as weaned. In our method of breeding and management our colts are weaned during the month of February and March. Consequently they must be carried along until spring. We find that as soon as our colts are weaned, if they are put on a ration of bright clover hay and a small feed of ensilage daily for roughage and a grain ration composed of oats, bran and oil meal or cake they do not notice to any extent the change from the dams milk and will take hold and eat greedily. In rearing colts on the farm too much attention cannot be directed to feeding a well-balanced ration of both grain and roughage regularly. While pasture may be in abundance a grain ration is a great assistance in producing rapid bone and muscle development and many times re-pays for itself in the increased value of the horse at maturity.

Experienced horse breeders in the Buffalo NY area can be excellent resources for those interested in breeding horses themselves.